Thu 10 Feb 2011
BBC Radio 4
Something strange is happening to the climate – the climate of opinion. On the one hand, scientists are forecasting terrible changes to the planet, and to us. On the other, most of us don’t seem that bothered, even though the government keeps telling us we ought to be. Even climate scientists and environmental campaigners find it hard to stop themselves taking holidays in long haul destinations.
So why the gap between what the science says, and what we feel and do? In this programme Jolyon Jenkins investigates the psychology of climate change. Have environmentalists and the government been putting out messages that are actually counterproductive? Might trying to scare people into action actually be causing them to consume more? Are images of polar bears actually damaging to the environmentalists’ case because they alienate people who don’t think of themselves as environmentalists – and make climate change seem like a problem that’s a long way off and doesn’t have much relevance to normal life? Does the message that there are “simple and painless” steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint (like unplugging your phone charger) unintentionally cause people to think that the problem can’t be that serious if the answers are so trivial?
Jolyon talks to people who are trying to move beyond the counterproductive messages. On the one hand there are projects like Natural Change, run by WWF Scotland, which try to reconnect people with nature using the therapeutic techniques of “ecopsychology” – intense workshops that take place in the wilderness of the west of Scotland, and which seem to convert the uncommitted into serious greens. On the other, there are schemes that try to take the issue out of the green ghetto and engage normal people with climate change. Jolyon visits a project in Stirling which has set itself the ambitious challenge of talking face to face with 35,000 people, through existing social groups like rugby clubs, knitting circles and art groups. It wants to sign up these groups to carbon cutting plans, and make carbon reduction a social norm rather than something that only eco-warriors bother with.
And he attends a “swishing party” in London, which tries to replicate the buzz women get from clothes shopping, but in a carbon neutral way. Can the green movement find substitutes for consumerism that are as fun and status-rich, that will deliver carbon reduction but without making people feel they have signed up to a life of grim austerity? And even if the British and Europeans shift their attitudes, can the Americans ever be reconciled to the climate change message? Producer Jolyon Jenkins.