(If you are feeling impatient, go straight to the report)
"The world’s top climate scientists are now ringing the alarm bells at a deafening volume because the time to act has virtually passed, yet it is as if the frequency of the chime is beyond the threshold of human hearing." - Clive Hamilton.
In the late autumn of 2011 we learned that the world pumped about 564m more tons of carbon dioxide into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, an increase of 6%. Levels of greenhouse gases are now higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts four years ago.
Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for decades, and for every year that we increase emissions like this, we will have to reduce them even more drastically, and therefore with even more difficulty in the future. Such increases are not merely a sign that we are failing to adapt to the challenge of climate change, but also a signal that relying exclusively on technological and market-driven fixes is foolhardy.
Bluntly stated, we are not getting it. As John Reilly, the co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change put it: “The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing.”
So what do we do? As I have argued here before, Climate change is a multi-dimensional global challenge, raising profound scientific, technological, political and ethical questions. Yet the mismatch between the scale of the challenge and existing efforts to address the problem point to something more troublingly prosaic. For those who are not working directly to address the issue, Climate change lacks salience. While it may be viewed as significant in general terms, for most of us it is not important enough, immediately and personally enough, to compel us to change our behaviour because of it.
These are the first few paragraphs of an RSA report, released today which frames the challenge of raising the salience of an issue that the recent social attitudes survey suggests is very far from public concern.
One of the main points of emphasis was to shift from generalised behaviour change to a focus on changing habits. One suggestion that follows is to make fuel efficient driving a pass/fail criterion in the driving test. Given how hard it is to change driving habits(often called 'an overlearned behaviour') there is an economic and environmental case for obliging people to establish good ones in the first place.
While the context of the report is the increasingly urgent ecological challenge of climate change and the economic challenge of rising fuel costs, the content of the report is our attempts to work with a particular sub-set of energy users- Hackney carriage (Black cab) drivers - to help them drive more fuel efficiently, thereby helping, or so it would seem, to protect the planet while saving them money. There is an important counter-argument to this simple equation that says by reinforcing me-first materialist values, you perpetuate the causes of the climate problem. Whatever your view on that, the cabbies drove 20% better than their baseline, saving over a thousand pounds a year per cabbie on average. Perhaps some of them will use the monies saved to plant some trees?
I don't want to steal too much thunder from the report, but I think you will enjoy reading it. One of the main points of emphasis was to shift from generalised behaviour change to a focus on changing habits. One suggestion that follows is to make fuel efficient driving a pass/fail criterion in the driving test. Given how hard it is to change driving habits(often called 'an overlearned behaviour') there is an economic and environmental case for obliging people to establish good ones in the first place.
We learned a lot from the process as a whole, about cabbies, costs, and climate change. I hope you will too.