Global warming

In the comments to a recent post, spiralgirl emphasises just how dire the situation is regarding global warming.

Something that comes with working for an environmental organisation (as I do) is that you are exposed to a lot of information about global warming and its impact on the planet. I think there is a solid awareness amongst the public of the issue, perhaps not enough urgency, but the tipping point in terms of public opinion has largely been achieved.

It seems that industry is starting to work this out too. With our governments well behind, certainly in Australia this is the case. (As an aside: I’ve seen a presentation that our CEO gives that outlines a continuum on which he places luddites, progressives, utopians, and then maps where our “institutions” (such as government, business etc.) exist. It seems that this pattern of awareness and action is fairly well understood.)

Scientists, particularly those watching biological indicators closely, give us about 10 years to perform a radical about face in our environmentally destructive ways before we start to see the worst-case scenario unfold. This is a lot sooner than most people think. The bad news is that we are 100% certain to see biodiversity (that is species) loss in the next 10 years regardless of the changes we make. The good news is that we already have solutions to many problems today (WWF-Australia has produced a number of reports outlining practical and achievable ways to create a clean energy future for NSW and nationally). All we need is the societal (and I include business in that – I see business as a social creature, but more on that another day) and political will.

All that said, there is a real dilemma that we all face in how we effect that change. It is one thing to scream from the roof-tops that the sky is falling, but that is unlikely to change most people’s behaviour. I liken some of the green groups awareness raising “stunts” as being screaming from the rooftops. It is important, because it does cause some people take notice and look into things further.

But… real change comes from engaging people in debate, understanding and addressing their concerns, and showing them an alternative path. This is a harder road in many ways, it takes a lot of time and is largely a thankless task. That means engaging business. It means engaging government (even this one – which regular readers know I have zero trust in). It means engaging the public in different ways. Sometimes, shock-horror, it means compromise! The “sky is falling” only works so long, then it becomes background noise. And calling for “all-or-nothing” is rarely a constructive approach. Somewhere in the middle lies the answer.

WorldChanging suggests that the way to do this is to present a “bright green” future to people. At WWF, we largely agree with this approach (although the term “bright green” doesn’t really work in our view), and my team’s focus is on what the best way to encourage action from our communications.

The biggest challenge for the movement, IMO, is how we encourage action now to effect changes in the future. As a species we aren’t very good at this. But the environmental movement has to find a way to do this. I think one of the key messages that will start to come through is that this isn’t just about polar ice caps and furry animals – as the Millennium Assessment Report plainly states: improvements in health, social and economic development will all be for naught if we don’t start taking care of and restoring the environment.

In other words, the environment is now a human issue. And it needs to be prioritised. As someone who is a strong advocate for human rights – be they economic or otherwise – this message resonates strongly with me. Perhaps it will resonate with others too – particularly those that feel some kind of responsibility to their children, to give them the best future possible.

I’ve got more on this topic swimming in my head, but I’ve rambled long enough for the moment.

  • I hear ya Grant. I learnt so much in the last week about climate change to scare the pants off anyone……it will be affecting us in so many varied ways – that is why it applies to everyone, and i think that needs to be the focus – that Joe Blow in Oz will be effected just as much as a polar bear will be. Its all very very scary doom and gloom stuff and it is really urgent right now to do something about it.

    And yes, the question is how? what is the best way to make a difference? And I think using many methods is the answer. Lobbying the government to change its spending habits to support green energy ( i mean does the non renewable sector really need $2.8 Billion a year?? Surely they can spare some for the wind power folks??) To work with industry , and to channel the fear of the people into action. And yes, I think even the stunts are important, as ways to just keep reminding people that the planet is dying – so that they dont just get all caught up in Royal weddings and Paris hilton scandals.

    Being out there on the streets this week for Greenpeace, I have spoken to many people about this issue, and lots of people are scared but dont know what to do about it. Of course in my job, I highlighted the great stuff that Greenpeace are doing to act over this. But I am aware that basically every green group on the planet is working really hard on this issue.

    Lets just hope that the pollies start to listen?

    love spiral girl

  • oh and by the way, I quit yesterday……it was a hard job, and I just couldnt cope….if you see a frontliner for a charity out in the street, be nice to them, because it can be a soul crushing job when people are so so rude…..

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