Climate Crisis 2021: Changing Lives by Changing Minds

Climate Change. Since the earliest documentation regarding the impact humanity has had on the planet, we have developed a greater and more extensive understanding with each passing decade. Yet, we have done relatively little in the way of altering our journey down the road to the dark destination we are on track to. Now the phrase ‘climate change’ has turned to ‘climate crisis’. We’re reaching a critical moment in the crossroads of our collective history – it’s code red for humanity.

The climate crisis isn’t an unsolvable problem though. We shouldn’t just passively sit back and accept our shared doom. For decades, researchers and scientists have been putting forward vast numbers of ideas, reforms and policies which could help us avert this cataclysmic climate crisis. Use cleaner energy. Stop deforestation. Repurpose, reuse, recycle. Farm and harvest food sustainably. Reduce carbon emissions. There are so many ways in which we can help bring our climate back into balance. So why haven’t we switched tracks to avert this rapidly approaching climate crisis we are well en route to?

The Climate Crisis  

The recently published report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) couldn’t be any clearer – or more urgent for that matter. Cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 or face disastrous consequences. In all predicted scenarios, the report shows that 1.5°C in global temperature will be reached by 2040. If we don’t start reducing our emissions before then, we’ll reach those levels even earlier than that.

The message is very clear; the younger generation have a clear understanding of it. Generation Z actually seem to be amongst those who are moved most to act on this message. It is their futures that are being put at risk after all. We know we need to change the path we are on; the goals have been set out clear-as-day for COP26. So, we are left with one all important question. How?

The report makes it glaringly obvious what the solution is; this crisis isn’t being caused by something out of our control. There isn’t an asteroid set on an unavoidable, cataclysmic destruction path hurtling towards Earth; the only thing fueling this imminent apocalypse is human behaviour. However, knowing that the problem has been caused by us means the power also lies with us to fix it.

Changing our Behaviour: Actions to Tackle the Climate Crisis

Make Sustainability the Default Option

Human behaviour naturally slides into the path of least resistance – we choose actions that have the least number of steps, which in turn cause the least hassle. What has the least steps; trying to pack all of your rubbish into a bag to take all the way home to then sort into recyclable materials – or to just leave it on the ground for someone else to clean up?

By removing the steps to sustainability, and making it the easier, more accessible option, most people will be more than willing to participate in the climate fight. Take for example opt in carbon offset schemes. Many airlines offer the option for passengers to opt in to offset the carbon emissions of their flights. However, this extra step can often put many people off, as it is perceived as an extra hassle. If this was switched to an opt out service, most travellers would not object to participating in a sustainable enterprise which did not create any extra work for them.  

The Power of Psychology

The Attenborough Effect. The phenomenon which gave new life to the wider social movement aiming to ‘wage war on single use plastics’. It is the perfect example of the power of psychology in changing people’s minds regarding climate change. The Blue Planet II documentary, a powerful expose that confronted humanity’s callous impact on the unparalleled beauty of our coasts and oceans, tapped directly into the theory of Cognitive Dissonance, causing a mass shift in public behaviour regarding single use plastics.  

Cognitive Dissonance is basically the discomfort caused when we engage in behaviour that runs counter to our attitudes or beliefs; something that disrupts our typical positive conception of ourselves. We naturally try to reduce this discomfort in several ways, one of which is bringing our behaviour in line with the dissonant cognition. The stark, emotional confrontation of Attenborough’s account of the consequences of humanity’s thoughtless, unsustainable actions filled anyone watching with a real moral news flash. Plastic pollution is abhorrent. It also causes people to confront a mismatch between their new beliefs and old behaviours.

People can see how horrific plastic pollution really is…but they are then confronted by their own behaviour of using vast amounts of single-use plastics in their day-to-day lives. Psychologically, something doesn’t add up. The behaviour is dissonant with the belief: ‘If I am a good person and care about the planet – why am I contributing so much to plastic pollution?’.

People therefore alter their behaviour to run complementary with their new beliefs; plastic pollution is bad, so they now minimise their consumption of single-use plastics. They may invest in a reusable water bottle, bring their own bags shopping so they don’t have to buy plastic ones, and make sure to properly recycle any of their remaining plastic waste instead of throwing it into the trash. 

Policy and Legislation Changes

To put it simply, lack of ambitious, active participation and commitment to the preservation of our planet by big business and nation’s governments, is a key factor holding us back in this fight. These key players are failing to step up to the plate with real policy reforms. There is a refusal to commit to tougher legislation on greener policies for fear it will upset their public ratings. These groups are focussing more on holding onto power than on using their power to change the status quo.    

Many countries came together in Paris 2016 to address the climate crisis; this agreement set the target of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C. Sadly, the realistic truth is that all too many of these countries have set un-ambitious targets which will not do enough to successfully tackle the issue. On top of this, many of these countries are not even successfully meeting their insufficient targets. Even if all countries managed to hit their current targets, temperatures would still increase by well over 2°C in the next 70 years. 

More commitment is needed on a political and legal front to support, rather than hold back this cause. There is a lot of evidence that policy and legislation changes can have a significant positive impact when it comes to combating the climate crisis. For example, after years of pollution caused by single use plastics – the Kenyan government took action and made a monumental ban of the manufacturing, sale and use of plastic bags. They have since reported over an 80% reduction in their use in the population. In addition to this, by banning the manufacturing of plastic bags, they have opened up the potential for the diversification of businesses who are now investing in alternative sustainable materials to create bio-bags.  

Government backed schemes can massively help in causing a shift in the sustainability culture within populations. In the UK, the 2003 Household Recycling Act passed meaning every household in the UK would have a doorstop recycling service. This increased the amount of household waste recycled from 12% to 43% by 2016. Now, the recycling system we have in our country is taken for granted, and it has become a natural habit for us to divide up our waste and repurpose the reusable materials. Real policy change. Real Action. Real Impact. 

Changing Minds to Change our Lives

Our survival instinct is seemingly yet to kick in. Too many individuals are failing to act, because they fail to see how individual acts add up to a collective power to create real change. Personally, I like to think we are not so arrogant as a species that we think we can continue to decimate the planet that has given us life in the universe and expect no repercussions.

It’s not just down to the individuals on the day-to-day though. If the leaders of this world still insist on hiding behind half-baked, empty promises rather than taking action to prevent this looming, existential threat to humanity, then the young generation shall have to shape our own futures. Passionate rants with our friends and family about the current ‘state of things’ is not going to fix the problem. Chatting about issues for an hour, a day, or a week, then brushing them under the carpet is not revolutionary, it’s compliance.

“We only need one thing to address this current problem, and it is quite simple and elegant. Action. By working with human nature rather than against it, we can more easily pursue the goal of global sustainability.”

We need to take action and hold ourselves accountable every single day. Everybody. Global hope and unity will be essential in tackling the climate crisis. If everybody takes action every single day, no matter how small or imperfect, together we are capable of greatness. Together, we are capable of change. Together, we are capable of saving our planet.

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