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What are the socio-political factors that cause climate change inaction? - A Research Piece

Updated on January 15, 2016

A Quick Poll To Start With

Do you believe in Anthropogenic Climate Change?

See results

Reasons for Research

From my knowledge of Geography, I know that many reputable sources such as the IPCC and the IEA have fundamental proof that anthropogenic climate change is happening. I also know that the problem is getting worse and the consequences more perilous. I understand that some relatively small scale projects have ambitions to halt or reverse climate change but I do not understand why, for this global problem there is not a global agreement or understanding on proactively tackling, mitigating or adapting to the problem as opposed to my current understanding of a worldwide net "business as usual" approach and mere bureaucracy action such as the KYOTO or various COP summits agreement.

At University I hope to study Human Geography and incorporate Climate Change along with Development into my degree. This topic is on a subject of personal interest and I hope to continue in this line of research at university.

Also...

If anyone finds this piece interesting or has an interest in the subject in general and would like to discuss this topic some more, feel free to comment below :)

Abstract

This research project considers the different factors that are preventing action on climate change. It looks at different views on technical, political and social aspects of the problem, considering the points:

- Do we have the means to stop a worsening climate?

- What's happening in the Whitehouse and elsewhere?

- Does the public care enough?

- The public's influence on politics.

Introduction

As a student of Geography and subsequently economics I have been made acutely aware of the fragility of the planet's ecosystems and have been taught about how changes in the climate are stretching our capacity to survive in the environment we have created for ourselves.

In the words of George Carlin "The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!" (Carlin)1

It was a sense of frustration that led me to start looking more closely at the environment section on online news and then at books on the topic to see what was being done. This exploration of the subject has led to the question I am proposing, I wanted to find out what factors lay behind apparent inaction by the rich and powerful of the world, along with the common citizen despite the size of the problem being faced.

Literature on climate change as a whole is very assured. A survey carried out in 2013 found that 97% of peer-reviewed scientific publications between 1991 and 2011 with key words of 'global warming' and 'global climate change' endorsed anthropogenic global warming. (John Cook, 2013)2.a

Other analysis using peer-reviewed publications but with a slightly different methodology and a one year longer time span up to 2012 found only 0.2% of papers to reject global warming. (Powell, 2012)3

Climate change is having an effect already and will continue to do so. The table below (IPCC, 2013)4.a shows the future trends of global climate change predicted by the IPCC in their fifth assessment report.

The IPCC predicts, in their fourth assessment report, that increases in global mean temperature of less than 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) above 1990 levels will produce beneficial impacts in some regions and harmful ones in others. Net annual costs will increase over time as global temperatures increase. (IPCC, 2007)4.b

"Taken as a whole," the IPCC states, "the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time." (NASA, 2008)5

Interestingly, when researching costs, mainstream literature and all media relates to 'How much would it cost to prevent climate change' et cetera, not 'How much is it costing to combat climate change'. Which highlights the point that comprehensive action is not yet underway.

With respect to economic costs, an International Energy Agency "World Outlook Report" states that Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels and meet energy needs.

(Geman, 2009)6 There are also large social costs from the changing climate, an unfortunate irony of climate change is that the poorest nations, who have contributed least to the problem will tend to experience the brunt of the effects. This is conceptualized graphically above showing the disparity between the location of cause and effect.

When writing about the culture of America today Thomas. L Friedman states "A certain connection between hard work, achievement, and accountability has been broken". (Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded, 2008)8

This also prompts the question, if those who are emitting the most greenhouse gases are the least affected by direct global warming impacts, how can they be motivated to change?

The finiteness of the problem is documented in another report by the IEA which indicates that, in the next five years so many energy-guzzling factories, fossil-fuelled power stations and inefficient buildings are likely to be built that it will become impossible to hold global warming at safe levels due to the 'lock-in' effect of these buildings, which is said to be the single most important factor leading to runaway climate change and the last chance of combatting dangerous climate change will be "lost forever" (IEA, 2009)9

The graph below puts into perspective how much effect that many of the meetings, panels, assemblies and agreements have had in stopping the rise and rise of CO2 emissions, which are considered to be the major driver of climate change (Union of Concerned Scienists, 2009)11

It appears that almost all the evidence supports anthropogenic climate change, whose costs are only going to get worse exponentially. What are the factors that are putting the brakes on action?

I have decided to focus the main body of the project into 4 different sections, which I believe all link to one another:

- Do we have the means to stop a worsening climate?

- What's happening in the Whitehouse and elsewhere?

- Does the public care enough?

- The publics influence on politics

Article Analysis

8Friedman, T. L. (2008). Hot, Flat and Crowded. Penguin Books Ltd.

Thomas Friedman is a three times Pulitzer Prize winner and biweekly columnist with the New York Times. With a Masters in Philosophy from Oxford University it could be said that some of his ideas are more ideological sentiments and sometimes lack factual sustenance. This book and especially its chapters on the politics aspect of the climate dilemma allowed me to realise early on what some of my lines of questioning would be. I feel this is generally a highly reliable secondary source, where Friedman expands on facts provided by some of my other sources such as the IEA (International Energy Agency) and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) with what some consider his own idiosyncratic opinions. The book aligns itself well with my understanding that there is a climate change challenge with Part 1: How We Got Here and Part 2: How We Move Forward proving to be very informative.

Penguin Books Ltd. Is a very well regarded publishing company and the one downside to this source would be that it was written in 2008 and the past six years have been very fast moving in terms of developments in the climate itself and also developments in attempts to mitigate and adapt.

The Guardian online newspaper, various articles

Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment

This secondary source is considered one of the most reliable newspapers in circulation. The environment section of the website is award winning and all of the "opinion" articles and blogs used provide detailed referencing to accredited and relevant primary sources, this allowed me to greater explore the ideas examined in more detail and access further raw data from primary sources used, such as peer reviewed scientific journals. However the Guardian is known to take a more leftwing approach to reporting the news, which can be useful for the provision of in depth climate change discussion but also to its detriment because this means the source could be considered bias. On reflection I consider the facts and information provided to be reliable and usable for this dissertation. The references used in this dissertation which were sourced from the guardian (thereby verifying their high quality as a source) are listed below:

- 24.aReadfearn, G. (2014, February 24). Australia's renewables adviser scrapes the bottom of the climate denialist barrel.

- 27John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli. (2013, May 16). Survey finds 97% of climate science papers agree warming is man-made.

- 20Goldenberg, S. (2013, November 20). Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions.

- 26Press Association. (2014, February 2014). Report hails international progress on climate change laws.

- 22Siddique, H. (2010, July 23). US Senate Drops Bill to Cap Carbon Emmissions.

- 23Taylor, L. (2014, February 27). Tony Abbott’s scientific and business advisers at odds over climate change.

2John Cook,

2.a John Cook, et al (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. IOP science , 7.

2.b Cook, J. (2013). The Consensus Gap.

Avaliable from: http://www.skepticalscience.com

John Cook is a climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and studied physics at the University of Queensland, Australia. His website and papers are secondary sources and the science presented on Skeptical Science is not his own but taken directly from the peer reviewed scientific literature. Both of the sources used allowed me to understand the overwhelming consensus in climate science, which I did not know, existed before. This enabled me to make the assumption that anthropogenic global warming is real and lay a foundation for why this problem needs action.

4The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

4.a IPCC. (2013). Summary for Policymakers, IPCC Synthesis report. Cambridge university press.

4.bIPCC. (2007). Fourth Assessment report. Cambridge university press.

The IPCC's assessment reports are produced every five years, basing its assessment on both peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed published literature and being finalised by the governments of over 120 countries it provides an internationally accepted authority on climate change so is probably the most reliable and unbiased source used in this dissertation. The reports have a high level of synthesis with much of the other climate science information I have used because of its nature as a culmination of a large amount of data. This source was able to help me better understand the physical and social costs anthropogenic climate change is having and will have in the future.

14Green Peace. (2010, November 4). Greenpeace, nuclear energy and climate change.

Retrieved from Green Peace: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/about/greenpeace-nuclear-energy-and-climate-change

Green peace stands somewhat alone on its position towards using nuclear power when compared to other references used but as a secondary source its arguments are well backed up with data from primary sources such as a joint project by McKinsey consultants and Imperial College London. When tackling the second subsection of the essay it provided an interesting counterpoint on the contentious topic of using nuclear as a transitional energy source.

Green Peace itself is an internationally recognised campaign group and NGO; they use award winning investigative journalists and its campaigns influence the decision making of large corporations and governments. However green peace has been accused in the past of ignoring crucial data in order to add weight to its own reports, but on balance Green Peace is considered a highly reliable source of Climate change and environment news.

29Jeremy Williams

29.aWilliams, J. (2013, November 06). FOUR REASONS WHY WE IGNORE CLIMATE CHANGE.

Retrieved from Make Wealth History: http://makewealthhistory.org/2013/11/07/four-reasons-why-we-ignore-climate-change/

29.bWilliams, J. (2014, January 29). PROTEST WORKS – 37% OF THE TIME . Retrieved from Make Wealth History: http://makewealthhistory.org/2014/01/29/protest-works-37-of-the-time/

Jeremy Williams is the co-founder and writer of the opinion blog Make Wealth History. Since 2007 he has explored and researched the "unsustainable lifestyle of the western world", he studied cultural studies, international relations and journalism, and is also a co-founder of the post growth institute. The blog, as a secondary source, embeds scientific work with the use of URLs and hyperlinks, which meant I was able to view and reference these embedded works which all synthesised well with one and other.

The articles from 6.a and 6.b were a key starting point for the penultimate and final sections of this dissertation, as I had no hypothesis as to what information I would find for these. The source gave me exactly the information I needed and provoked further development of research on how the public can influence politics.

24Graham Readfearn

24.aReadfearn, G. (2014, February 24). Australia's renewables adviser scrapes the bottom of the climate denialist barrel.

Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2014/feb/24/climate-change-dick-warburton-sceptic-australia-renewable-energy-target-review

24.bReadfearn, G. (2013, Octoder 09). Australia's New Prime Minister Surrounded By Climate Science Denying Voices and Advisors.

Retrieved from DeSmogBlog.com: http://www.desmogblog.com/2013/10/09/australia-s-new-prime-minister-surrounded-climate-science-denying-voices-and-advisors

Graham Readfearn is a specialist Australia Environment correspondent journalist for the Guardian and a frelance journalist and blogger.

His work on the overlap of Australian politics and climate change denial, especially recently under new PM Tony Abbott made a significant contribution to the third section, "What's happening in the Whitehouse and elsewhere?”

As with all objective works appearing on the guardian, Readfearn cross-references to a wide range of literature. This reference supports and builds upon all of the other information I needed on Australia such as 23Taylor, L. (2014, February 27), and linked in well with corresponding information for other nations such as 22Siddique, H. (2010, July 23).

13Ion, Dame. S. (2014, January 3). The Lights will go out if we don't go Nuclear. (J. Taylor, Interviewer)

Retrieved from: Sunday Times Magazine

Dame Sue Ion is one of the UK's top nuclear experts and a government advisor. This primary interview source from the Sunday Times provided both opinion and facts for a pro-nuclear future. It acted as a good counter argument for opposing sources including; 14Green Peace. (2010, November 4). Greenpeace, nuclear energy and climate change. However the interview is mainly subjective, with normative statements throughout so cannot fully be unbias.

Do we have the means to stop a worsening climate?

It would seem intuitive that as it is humans who have caused this excess warming then if we all stopped driving cars, burning coal and pumping oil et cetera that temperatures and CO2 ppm would go back to how it used to be. However in a paper entitled "Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions" (Susan Solomon, 2008)12 the graphs on the right were produced. They illustrate how the concentrations of carbon dioxide would be expected to fall off through the coming millennium if manmade emissions were to cease immediately.

This shows how CO2 ppm levels persist and stay above pre-industrial levels and the corresponding effect this would have on temperature.

So this evidence makes it clear that despite how impractical completely stopping CO2 emissions would be it still would not actually have the desired effect.

The supplying of energy is the main component of CO2 production but Dame Sue Ion, one of the UK's top nuclear experts and a government advisor believes that we can solve the energy supply dilemma. She claims that "Our future energy can only be served by combining nuclear power, renewables like offshore wind farms and fossil fuels with carbon capture - which is shorthand for limiting the emissions that com from power stations" (Ion, 2014)13

On their website Green Peace contradicts the idea of nuclear focused future stating that we need to use technologies like combined heat and power, which generates both electricity and heat for domestic and industrial use, that is then piped to our homes via heat grids as part of a more flexible, localised, decentralised energy system. This can provide safe, secure energy around the clock, with large-scale technologies available as back up if needed.

Such a system is possible here in Britain. It could burn fossil fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible in the transition period to a cleaner, renewable future.

Beyond this, we could look at developing the more complex, unproven technologies that may or may not be feasible, like carbon capture and storage.

Last on the list for us - in the relegation zone, if you like - is nuclear power. While it is relatively low carbon compared to coal and oil, it can't be done without public subsidy, is phenomenally expensive and there remains no solution to the problem of waste. New nuclear also means that the more cost effective, readily available alternatives above would be hindered because making nuclear a reality requires every ounce of financial, regulatory and political will on the part of the government. (Green Peace, 2010)14

The Virgin Earth competition was set up to force innovation through a prize of $25 million with schemes designed to demonstrate a commercially viable design which results in the permanent removal of greenhouse gases out of the Earth's atmosphere, so as to contribute materially to avoid global warming.

It has spawned 11 finalists all with viable concepts, which could be scaled up to remove large quantities of greenhouse gases. (Virgin Earth Challenge, 2007)15

Many of the concepts designed are pioneering technologies, which shows that there is underinvestment and not enough incentives in the industries related to combatting climate change, a result of government and market failure.

A major study by consultants McKinsey, scientists at Imperial College London and partners in the energy industry showed that it is entirely possible to have 80 per cent renewable power in Europe by 2050, at the same price and as reliable as energy today. (McKinsey and Company)16

There is even a very easy solution which could be implemented in a very small time period and have very positive effects, regulation. Friedman gives the example of the way America dealt with the 1973-1974 Arab oil Embargo where initially "the United States implemented higher fuel economy standards for American cars and trucks. In 1975, Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which established corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards that required gradual doubling of passenger vehicle efficiency for new cars - to 27.5 miles per gallon - within 10 years." The Act worked. (Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded, 2008)8

So the answer is yes, we do have the means, but are we willing to make sufficient sacrifices, including those who have deeply vested interests.

What is happening in the White House and elsewhere?

I have chosen America as my main focus point as not only does it hold the most political influence in the world, but is also the 2nd largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, emitting about 19% of all CO2 gases globally in 2010 (Andres, 2010)17 and contains the headquarters for many of the world’s biggest companies which operate in many different countries.

Research has traced 63% of all industrial carbon dioxide and methane to just 90 companies in the oil, gas, coal and cement industries. 50 of which (mainly oil companies) are investor owned, with recognizable names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP as by far the biggest three.

31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco, Russia's Gazprom and Norway's Statoil and nine were government run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland. (Heede, 2013)19 (Goldenberg, 2013)20

These big, investor owned TNCs (transnational companies) are some of the richest on the planet and research has shown that many are not afraid to throw their influence and money around when it comes to trying to protect future profits and short term gains to satisfy shareholders.

A report of 28 S&P 500 companies in 2012 found that Corporations are devoting large amounts of funding and other resources both to facilitate and obstruct political decision making related to climate change, and they are doing so across many different venues. Much of this misinformation about climate science is being put forward by some of the sample’s energy-producing companies. These companies adversely affect the conversation on climate change through such means as direct public statements, political contributions, lobbying, congressional testimony, and the funding of trade groups and think tanks. Though these companies constitute a small subset of American corporations, they have a disproportionate effect on the dialogue—in part, by eroding the public’s understanding of climate change and weakening its support for steps to address the climate crisis. (The Scientific Integrity Program, 2012)21

The report highlights the conniving practices some of the companies employ. Several of the industry organizations mentioned, such as the 'Centre for Energy and Economic Development', conceal the funding and agendas of the industries behind them. Through these front groups, companies can push their agendas more aggressively without public accountability.

Given these inconspicuous ways in which companies can utilize supposedly independent groups to do their bidding, the funding of industry groups is an important pathway through which corporations influence the national climate conversation without accountability (The Scientific Integrity Program, 2012)21

The report draws similarities to that of the so called 'Tobacco Wars' in the 1990s where many major tobacco company executives testified before congress that smoking was not detrimental to health, although it would later be revealed that these companies had repressed scientific findings going back to 1963 that smoking harms public health. An infamous example of corporate interference in science. (The Scientific Integrity Program, 2012)21

In 2010 Democrats had been trying to pass a bill that charges power plants, manufacturers and other large polluters for their carbon dioxide emissions, the leading contributor to global warming, for more than a year. But it ran into opposition from Republican senators, as well as some Democrats eager not to jeopardise their chances in November's midterm elections.

Republicans said the bill would create a "national energy tax", warning costs would be passed to consumers in the form of higher electricity bills and fuel costs that would lead manufacturers to take their factories overseas, putting jobs at risk.

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, warned that the country would pay a "high price" if the Senate failed to curb carbon emissions.

"Too many senators are listening to polluters instead of the American public," he said. "Too many senators have learned nothing from the Gulf disaster and the high price we pay when oil lobbyists dictate our energy laws." (Siddique, 2010)22

It is not just private companies who are putting the brakes on when it comes to making changes to help the environment, it is happening inside major governments. Australia as seen in in Fig.2 has CO2 emissions per capita on a par with America but there is infighting in the new cabinet under PM Tony Abbott, with Ian Chubb the Chief Scientist strongly rejecting claims that climate science is a delusion. However head of the PM's business advisory group Maurice Newman, is quoted in a Newspaper article as describing climate science as a "scientific delusion". Moreover, Dick Warburton, a boardroom veteran, is to head the review of the renewable energy target but his views on climate change are not promising (Taylor, 2014)23. Warburton has repeatedly refused to accept the basic science of anthropogenic climate change.

If this wasn't bad enough it seems Australian politics is riddled with the idea of denying human caused climate change. Prime Minister Tony Abbott claims in public that he accepts that humans are having an impact on the climate, but publicly denies the science linking human-caused climate change to bushfires and droughts.

Since winning power, the Abbott Government has decided not to appoint a science minister, not to send a minister to the most recent round of United Nations climate talks, to scrap funding for the Climate Commission, push for the break-up of the Climate Change Authority and scrap legislation that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions. (Readfearn, Australia's renewables adviser scrapes the bottom of the climate denialist barrel, 2014)24.a

At least six members of his 18-strong cabinet have in recent years expressed scepticism over whether fossil fuel burning can cause climate change. (Readfearn, Australia's New Prime Minister Surrounded By Climate Science Denying Voices and Advisors , 2013)24.b. As mentioned in the section on TNCs above, it is those with denialist views who are making their voices most heard and this is the case in Australia, where through television, reports and websites their message is being pushed through. (Readfearn, Australia's New Prime Minister Surrounded By Climate Science Denying Voices and Advisors , 2013)24.b

It is unsurprising then that a recent report published by GLOBE (Global Legislators Organisation) found Australia (and also Japan) to be the only 2 of 66 countries studied that had actually "backslid" and started to reverse climate legislation. (GLOBE and The Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, 2014)25. However only 13 countries were considered to have made progress.

The report also highlights that in the US, Congress has not passed significant national climate change legislation, but Baroness Worthington (GLOBE vice-president) said it was hoped that as the impacts of global warming got worse, the US would take more and more action at a city, state and federal level. (Press Association, 2014)26

Does the public care enough?

You could question 'does the public understand enough?'

The answer, No.

A report looking into public understanding showed that a consensus gap has been formed between how much the scientists actually agree and how much the public thinks the scientists agree.

The Question asked was:

"How many climate experts agree that the global warming we are witnessing is a direct consequence of the burning of fossil fuels by humans?"

(Cook, 2013)2.b

The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories "balanced" with a "sceptic" perspective. However, this results in making the 2–3% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve "balance", the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what's causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem. ( John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli, 2013)28

If the public was to understand more, then several studies have shown that people who are aware of scientific consensus on human-caused global warming are more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

However companies with vested interests, such as those mentioned previously, have realised the link between understanding and action by the public.

For example, a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans, "Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate" ( John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli, 2013)28

The fact that this memo is addressed to republicans brings light to another point about the political views held by the public and how much this influences the opinion they hold on anthropogenic climate change.

A paper by the PEW research center shows the difference of opinion supporters of different parties have. It also states that in 2012 only 16% of conservative republicans thought climate change was caused by humans, as opposed to 77% of Liberal Democrats.

It is hard to pin point exactly why there is such a divide between the two parties but a book by Chris Mooney called "The Republican Brain, the science of why they deny science - and reality" gives some explanation as to the pseudoscience views.

Some well-known examples of republican rhetoric professed by many members of the Republican Party include; claiming that rape does not cause pregnancy, that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim that creationism is real and that global climate change is a hoax.

Conservatism also tends to be associated with a variety of other personality traits, including dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, fear of death, fear of change, less openness to new experiences, less “integrative complexity” in their thinking, less “nuanced” thinking, more need for “closure”, and so on. Liberals, on the other hand, are characterized by some of the opposite personality traits: rejection of dogmas, tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, less fear of death or change, more openness to new experience, curiosity about the world, and more complex and nuanced thinking without the need for simplicity or “closure.” (Prothello, 2012)30

So you can see how scientists, who are generally more liberal might clash with Republicans who are more likely to be in business, the church or the military.

The book also goes on to say that republicans are only likely to be swayed on issues such as climate change if they can actually see the effects. The unfortunate aspect for climate change is that it can't be bottled, so this backward mindset is likely to keep on hindering the US when making policy decisions.

In the book "Hot, Flat and Crowded" by Thomas L. Friedman, he talks about the lack of focus from the government, who act with what he calls a 'dumb as we wanna be' mood that has taken over our political elite, a mood that says we can indulge in petty red state-blue state cat fights" such as that seen in October of 2013, where the government entered a shutdown due to a Tea-party initiative by republicans to cut funding to the Affordable Care Act. (Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded, 2008)8

There is another line of reasoning as to why the general public isn't going out of its way to try and influence the conversation on climate change. This is on a more psychological level. There is one quote, which I think is very apt;

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication is quoted as saying "You almost couldn't design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology" (Leiserowitz, 2013)31. What he meant by this is outlined by psychologist Dan Gilbert who suggests there are four key ways that we understand threat, and that climate change just doesn’t ring the right warning bells for us.

1- Climate change has no bad guy. Being a social species, we’re alert to the machinations of others. We’re naturally inclined to respond to a personifiable enemy, and there’s no villain here.

2- Climate change doesn’t move us. If something makes us angry or upset or disgusted, we’ll respond. Despite the emotive images of polar bears, the climate crisis doesn’t “violate our moral sensibilities”.

3- Climate change isn’t immediate. The human body will move at lightning speed to avoid a sudden danger. We’re not so good at thinking about the future.

4-Climate change is slow motion. If change is gradual, we don’t really notice it, and we’re prepared to tolerate long-term change that we’d never accept if it happened over a short period of time.

In short, “climate change lacks the four features that trigger our cerebral alarms.” It’s an impersonal threat, slow and quiet. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, that makes it invisible. (Williams, FOUR REASONS WHY WE IGNORE CLIMATE CHANGE, 2013)32.a

The public's influence on politics

I hope to show how much influence the public has on decisions made by political leaders. This is known as public choice theory and the principle could be applied to show how governments would react if there was a public consensus on wanting to stop climate change.

If the public becomes more engaged with the problem and the issue becomes part of the conversation in parliament then, as usually happens with topics discussed in the House of Commons (for example), either side could start using climate change as a point of conversation to accuse the other of not doing enough and try and gain votes from the topic.

One way for the public to have an impact is through protests. A study of World Protests found that protesters achieved their goals 37% of the time which sounds like a good ratio (Ortiz, 2013)33. However you have to consider the causation; did the protests cause the change or were there other factors causing change? Also it appears that certain types of demands were met more than others; half of those 37% of wins relate to “political, legal and social rights, including the right to information and government transparency.” but “global issues and economic justice appear the most difficult areas in which to achieve change”.

(Williams, PROTEST WORKS – 37% OF THE TIME , 2014)29.b

In democracies in the more developed world the government is likely to be more attuned to the people and will respond without protests in an effort to stay in power for another term. This brings to light a problem with democracies; politicians are too scared to make long term decisions in a four year term, in general they like targets with short times to bring to fruition. Climate change does not fall into this category.

So with a shift in consensus and climate change becoming a contentious point in public opinion this could force action in governments, but would require selfless leaders to take the risk of sacrificing future leadership in order to set a long term plan for climate change reduction.

In conclusion there is definitely still a climate change dilemma and there are things that need to happen in order to get a clearer vision of what we need to do.

To address corporate interference and ultimately mitigate the impacts of climate change itself, the United States needs greater transparency in governmental and corporate affairs. This will not only help illuminate how extensively companies are influencing the political process but also will help hold them accountable for their actions. Ultimately, there needs to be a dialogue around climate science and policy that prioritises peer-reviewed scientific information above the agendas of special-interest groups.

The Nature Climate Change study underscores why “win-win” climate policies — like innovation investments that can lead directly to cheap clean energy, rather than policies that make dirty energy more expensive — are likely to be the most effective ones. Barring a species-wide personality change, few of us will be willing to endure present pain so that our grandchildren won’t have to endure an unlivable climate. We’re likely to be better off by tailoring solutions that work with our selfishness and brief attention span, rather than hoping we suddenly become better, more farsighted people.

The scientific consensus is robust, manifesting in the peer-reviewed literature, scientific organisations and surveys of climate scientists. Unfortunately (although luck has nothing to do with it), there is a huge gap between perception and reality. This consensus gap is part of the reason why there is a lack of public support for climate action.

This means closing the consensus gap is one of the more achievable aspects of climate communication. This doesn't require explaining the intricacies of the science, rather we just need to clearly communicate that climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. How do we achieve this?

The most important first step is to empower the public with knowledge.

Throughout the project I have gained a much deeper understanding of what a complex, multilayered problem climate change is and I have found that working on the project has built up my knowledge allowing me to transfer this type of analysis to many of the world’s other large scale problems.

I have come to realise that the fix is not going to be as quick or easy as I once thought it could be as now I realise how deep the roots of global warming lie.

References

Works Cited

1Carlin, G. (n.d.). Quotes About Extinction. Retrieved from Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/extinction

2.aJohn Cook, et al (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. IOP science , 7.

2.bCook, J. (2013). The Consensus Gap. Retrieved from Skeptical Science: http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=78

3Powell, D. J. (2012, November 15). The State of Global Warming Science. Science Progress .

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      ReadersDigress 20 months ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Andrew r, I worked hard on this one so I am glad you liked it!

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      Andrew r 20 months ago

      Great insightful piece of work, I will be sharing this