A new report from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (RSA) says that most people would choose economic growth over cutting carbon emissions, despite our fears over climate change and an acceptance that humanity is causing global warming. A New Agenda on Climate Change – Facing Up to Stealth Denial and Winding Down on Fossil Fuels says that the human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions saying “The knowledge of the reality, causes and implications of anthropogenic climate change creates a moral imperative to act, but this imperative is diluted at every level by collective action problems that appear to be beyond our existing ability to resolve. This challenge is compounded by collectively mischaracterising the climate problem as an exclusively environmental issue, rather than a broader systemic threat to the global financial system, public health and national security.” A survey by the YouGov published with the Report showed that 61% of people believed that economic growth should be pursued, even if this had a negative impact on climate change, and just 21% would back a 1% rise in income tax to help deal with climate change, despite the fact that over 60% of respondents agreed that significant behavioural change is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Report makes a case for how Britain can take a leading role in addressing the global climate problem, based on a new agenda that faces up to pervasive ‘stealth denial’ and the need to focus on keeping fossil fuels in the ground saying “Our data indicates that about two thirds of the population intellectually accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but ‘deny’ some or all of the commensurate feelings, responsibility and agency that are necessary to deal with it. It is argued that this stealth denial may be what perpetuates the doublethink of trying to minimise carbon emissions while maximising fossil fuel production, and also what makes us expect far too much of energy efficiency gains in the face of a range of rebound effects that lead energy to be used elsewhere.”
The Report argues that we should focus less on those who question the scientific consensus as if they were the principle barrier to meaningful action: “Those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change are not at all helpful, but at least they are consistent. One corollary of facing up to stealth denial is that we should turn more of our attention instead to mobilising those who fully accept the moral imperative to act, but continue to live as though it were not there. In reality the scientific message on climate change is already loud and clear, but we persistently ignore it.” 72% of the 2,000 people surveyed in the Report said that their own standard of living is more important to them than helping to solve the problems caused by climate change; Only 21% would pay more for goods or services to help deal with global warming; And cutting one’s own personal carbon footprint came last in a list topped by (1) dealing with the current financial crisis (2) economic growth and (3) dealing with immigration. Even ‘keeping libraries open’ ranked higher than climate change – despite the fact that 81% said they believed that the climate was changing and human activity was at least partially to blame.
More from the RSA’s Jonathan Rowson here http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/behavioural-insights/climate-change-denial-behaviour-change