Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Changing our attitude to Climate Change

Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

March 25, 2017
8 min read

Melting Ice Sheets in Illulissat, Greenland. Photo Credit: United Nations Photo/ flickr

Responding to potentially catastrophic climate change is a challenge unlike any other in our history. We have the technology to meet this challenge – the barriers are social, political and cultural. So how can we make it happen?

Evidence from behaviour change research suggests that inaction and apathy do not stem from ignorance or even indifference. Rather it is a result of the lack of leadership (both cultural and political), the lack of a framework that supports change (carbon lock-in), and inadequacies in the way we are encouraged to see the challenge in relation to our own lives (framing).

Perception management is a term originally coined by the US military. It broadly means framing key information given to any selected audience to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning so that it results in conclusions, behaviours and actions favourable to the originator’s objectives.

How we perceive the climate challenge is being skilfully managed. Despite extreme weather events increasing globally, the underlying climate science is generally kept distant from weather-related headlines, so we don’t make the connections. The prevailing climate silence across the mainstream media, including a lack of visibility in popular culture, can make us think that we are alone in worrying about climate change. And climate silence breeds climate silence: the perception that other people don’t care makes us less likely to talk about the issues, or to take action ourselves.

When the issue is addressed in the media, the choice offered is too often framed as between ‘things as usual’ or ‘sweeping changes’. These changes can be almost impossible for people to imagine. Given this framing, many will plump for things as usual – even though the reality is that there can be no business as usual if global warming is not addressed, so that action now is actually our best option for keeping things as we recognise them.

So how can we re-frame the issue and break the climate silence?

The essential ‘Yes!’

Providing clear evidence that workable solutions already exist is vital – it empowers citizens and gives hesitant policymakers no excuse for inaction.

Positive stories of collective action can counter feelings of helplessness, scepticism or detachment, and show that others care. From the Yorkshire ‘Nanas’ (see RP Aug/Sep 2016) to the Standing Rock protests in the US, more and more people from all sectors are coming together to say ‘No’ to what they feel is wrong. But there is also a growing passion for the essential ‘Yes!’ People are no longer content to campaign for a better world; they want a turn at building it for themselves.

Positive action unites us, and encourages those who don’t yet see the need to act. Individuals, families, communities and regional authorities have amassed a gold mine of experience of the complex interaction between land use, planning, renewables, food production, buildings, transport and waste. By bringing to life the sense of common purpose and the positive co-benefits offered by the zero carbon transition, we can re-frame how such solutions could relate to our lives.

For example, refurbishing homes to increase energy efficiency can have many additional benefits, including tackling fuel poverty, reducing damp and condensation, and improving the occupants’ wellbeing. Originating in the Netherlands, Energiesprong is an organisation that refurbishes houses to net zero energy, meaning that over the course of a year a house does not consume more energy for heating, hot water, lights and appliances than it produces. The upfront cost of the refurbishment is repaid over time by the difference in cost between the energy contract and the actual energy use. The work is completed within ten days so residents don’t have to move out.

Arno Schmickler, programme director at Energiesprong UK, says: ‘I’m an architect by background. Coming to Britain, it’s almost impossible what people put up with in terms of the quality of the building stock. It’s appalling to see what’s still being delivered today in terms of energy efficiency in the UK.’

Examples like this can help us to re-frame climate change in terms of the positive actions we can take to address the challenge and start to re-shape our collective future.

Overcoming carbon lock-in

While individual behaviour change is clearly important, it must be connected to the broader changes that are required to support it at social, industrial, political and international levels. To achieve this, we need to recognise how we have become locked in to fossil fuels. The historical, technical, cultural and institutional co-evolution of high-carbon energy, housing, transport and agriculture systems creates forces that are hugely resistant to change. This is despite their impacts being known and despite the existence of cost-effective alternatives.

For instance, the current highly centralised method of providing electricity is not the only or even the best way of doing it, particularly when all the impacts are considered. Yet it has become very difficult to change because of the legal frameworks, institutions, financial support, investment models, consumer preferences and practices that have grown up around it.

We can challenge this by creating practical projects at a local scale, where there is flexibility to experiment and innovate and so help normalise new relationships with energy, transport or food. However, once proven, such initiatives must have access to the support strategies and resources needed to rapidly replicate or scale up.

People come together

Community energy projects are a clear example of how people can come together to challenge carbon lock-in. The Green Valleys (TGV) Community Interest Company is one such example. Set up by community members in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2009, it inspires and supports communities to work together to reduce carbon emissions, generate income and deliver social and environmental benefits.

TGV Hydro offers a full design, permissions and construction service for small-scale hydroelectric systems. It has designed and built about 40 micro-hydro schemes across Wales, about a third of which are community owned. The projects raise awareness about renewable energy, together with energy-saving attitudes and initiatives.

TGV business development director Chris Blake says: ‘You can argue that perhaps energy is the defining commodity of the last 200 years. Where we get it from, who owns it, how it’s distributed and how it’s used is crucial to our social structure and civilisation. Having it local, municipal, socially owned, as it has been in the past, could be very liberating… [Community energy schemes] can build community cohesion – they don’t always, but they can.’

The co-benefits of action to overcome carbon lock-in is also a theme for Sheridan Piggott. She is the founder of York Bike Belles, which addresses the barriers to increasing cycling among women through activities such as bike maintenance workshops, group bike rides and bike loan schemes.

‘When they overcome those barriers, it leads to all sorts of other benefits,’ she says. ‘We’ve seen massive increases in confidence, independence, improvements in physical and mental health. We engaged about 7,500 women in the York area and at least 20,000 people have engaged with the project online… It’s grown from being just for women to being an everyday, friendly cycling community for everyone – one of the things that’s lacking in our cycling communities across the country.’

Exciting opportunities

The zero carbon transition opens up a range of exciting opportunities. It can deliver significant additional benefits, including better housing, affordable transport, reduced obesity, improved health, better air quality and more jobs. Isolated, stressful, consumer-focused lifestyles can be replaced by a sense of connection with community and nature, delivering enormous benefits in physical and psychological wellbeing.

Although shifting cultural values isn’t easy, there are powerful examples from history that show that evolution in our collective thinking can happen over just a few years. If we are to meet the urgency of the climate challenge, we must unleash our collective intent, and in doing so reveal a sense of common purpose that many have been craving for a very long time.

The full report, Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen, can be downloaded at www.zerocarbonbritain.org

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


161