Changing attitudes are reason to be hopeful
An invigorated response on a local and international scale has revealed that the world is ready to take climate change seriously. With strong policy and leadership, we can expect to make a difference.
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The pertinence of figures such as Greta Thunberg and the global movement Extinction Rebellion suggests that what were once fringe ideas about climate preservation have taken their hold in the mainstream. Their momentum will continue to build as sporadic natural disasters spurred on by the volatile atmosphere- such as wildfires, hurricanes, and floods- devastate communities. The reality of temperatures rising by 2°C is becoming conscious to the public. Now that effects are being felt- rather than just heard- we can expect grassroots movement and widespread awareness, even where politicians fail. Still, the political impact has been significant. The setting up of The Paris Agreement in 2016 represented a pivotal moment in environmental diplomacy. Its message has resonated: it says that leaders are realising the demands and willing to act. The net-zero carbon goal has been adopted into multiple nation’s strategies now. The UK, Sweden, France, Denmark, and New Zealand have all passed laws formally establishing net-zero targets by 2040-2050, with many more nations in the drafting stage of legislation. Surveys of changing attitudes indicate that citizens will embrace these measures. For example, 8-9 out of 10 People in Greece, South Korea, France, Spain, and Mexico express strong concerns over climate change. Only Russia, Nigeria, and Israel found less than half of those surveyed expressing major concern- and this is reflected in their governments. We are now seeing a higher engagement level than ever before, thanks to increased exposure to these issues. This will be the driving force in achieving emission targets.
The popularity of climate activism has ushered in a new paradigm, but attitudes are not changing where it counts, nor at the rate, they need to if we can expect to avert climate catastrophe. It is important to understand attitudes matter only when they translate into action. Many are aware of pollution caused by fossil fuels but will continue to drive cars. For example, a net-zero city would require a drastic reduction in car use, including switching over to electric cars and focusing on shared transport. In the UK, transport is the largest cause of CO2 pollution. It’s hard to imagine a developed City like London committing to this fully- and the same goes for its commuters. Such a task would require major infrastructure change with cooperation from commuters, businesses, and city councils. What is far more likely is half-measures: targets that, like attitudes, see the need to cut emissions but will only go as far as to give the impression of making a difference. To give an indication of the level of change that would need to occur: presently, just 0.5% of vehicles in the UK have low-carbon emissions. In order to reach net-zero, this would have to be much closer to 100%, and with far fewer vehicles in total, considering that the production of electric vehicles still has a notable carbon footprint. In most countries, the gap in attitudes can be attributed to the level of education, and in the case of nations like America, the issue is also partisan. Unless these very embedded rifts in society are fixed, it will be difficult to attain a unanimous response to climate change. Changes in law would also have to go beyond sustainability measures and nudging industries into becoming greener. Attitudes must change not just about how we think but live, and the result will be uncomfortable and economically damaging in the short-term for many.
Rejecting the premises