Support for climate action up, so why does it feel hopeless?

23 Feb, 2024 - 00:02 0 Views
Support for climate action up, so why does it feel hopeless? With movements like Fridays for Future, the climate cause has gained support in recent years

eBusiness Weekly

Farmers revolting against the EU’s climate policies, climate-doubting politicians pushing back against cutting fossil fuels and conspiracy theorists calling for freedom from the “tyranny” of 15-minute cities: backlash against environmental reform seems to be everywhere.

And yet, the results of a new study gauging global public support for climate action have shown an overwhelming majority of those surveyed back environmental protection.

Released earlier this month, the study — a joint effort by the University of Bonn, the Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE and the University of Copenhagen — reveals that 86 percent of the world population supports climate measures, with 89 percent calling for even more political action.

The representative survey was carried out in 2021 and 2022 across 125 countries, with behavioural researchers speaking with almost 130 000 people, either by phone or in person.

The results were not a complete surprise to Theo Schnarr, an activist with the Last Generation climate group in Germany. Looking back at the group’s protests that, until recently, included controversial road blockades, he recalled often getting tea and food from supportive passersby.

But that encouragement was rarely reflected in media coverage.

“People know that we can do better. They know that something’s wrong, that it’s not OK the way that we live,” he told DW.

“And people are ready for a transformation.”

More than two-thirds willing to fund climate efforts

“The voice of the majority has to be amplified,” said Madalina Vlasceanu, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University.

She told DW that, all too often, what’s reported in the media or in public discourse focuses on the negative.

“You don’t hear the majority, and what you do hear is the really loud extremes.”

That tendency to focus on the negative has skewed public perception of climate protection efforts. Of those surveyed, 69 percent said they would be ready to contribute at least 1 percent of their monthly income to help fund climate measures.

But despite this urge to act, respondents underestimated how much they thought their fellow citizens would be willing to do the same — by 26 percentage points.

“People who systematically underestimate public support for climate action are often less willing to take action themselves,” said Armin Falk, an economics professor in Bonn who contributed to the study.
People tend to downplay climate concerns of others

Patrick Kennedy-Williams, the co-founder of the UK-based Climate Psychologists, often sees such sentiments in his daily work.

“There’s this obvious discrepancy between our individual thoughts and feelings, motivations, and then what we perceive from the people around us. And this leads to a kind of lower sense of collective efficacy,” the clinical psychologist told DW.

A 2023 study by US nonprofit ecoAmerica found that while 42 percent of Americans were “very concerned” about climate change, they thought only 14 percent of people around them felt the same way.

That same survey showed four in 10 Americans don’t know what their local community is doing to address climate change.

This disconnect fuels climate anxiety, an overwhelming sense of guilt or panic over global heating and the cascading effects of climate change.

“That is an isolating experience,” said Kennedy-Williams, adding that overexposure to bad news, dishonest practices like greenwashing and government inaction worsen such feelings. “And that can become cyclical: the greater our climate anxiety, the worse our perception of those around us.”

Divisive politics, misinformation fuelling inaction

It doesn’t help that in many countries climate change has become so politically explosive, with groups on both sides of the ideological spectrum using the issue to mobilise their supporters.

“Climate has been politicized in many, many parts of the world,” said Li Shuo, who heads up the China Climate Hub at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington.

As a result, he said, people end up treating urgent problems like the green energy transition and the destructive effects of extreme weather like a partisan issue, delaying urgently needed change.

“And I do think that dynamic is facilitated, exacerbated by social media,” he added.
In her research, Vlasceanu highlights how climate denial remains prevalent on social media, even as more and more people begin to accept the reality of climate change.

“Misinformation is critical to this issue, and it’s the main tool of stalling action,” she said, adding that “as long as you confuse the public just enough, create a little bit of doubt” it gives people an excuse not to face the issue.

She points out that misinformation and “growing polarisation of belief” continue to block action.

‘People are ready for a transformation’

One way to overcome the prevailing pessimism, said Li, is to find ways to connect the abstract issue of climate change to everyday life — showing people how their future could be better with the opportunities offered by a decarbonised economy, like cleaner air.

“That’s a forward-looking way to look at an otherwise bleak, sometimes hopeless challenge,” he said.
Kennedy-Williams agreed, though he cautioned against relying too much on touting the benefits of newer technologies like heat pumps. These expensive solutions could turn people off due to their current high costs, he said.

“They don’t see themselves in these conversations, and therefore don’t see themselves as part of the solution either,” he said.

Instead, he gave the example of campaigns in east London connecting people with the idea of climate change by showing how air pollution affects their families. Such actions show individuals they aren’t alone with their concerns.

“Some of the best kinds of campaigns have been ones that speak to the local voice and address local needs,” he said.

For her part, Vlasceanu is working with colleagues at NYU on finding ways to promote this kind of collective climate action in the US via crowdsourcing.

“The situation is not hopeless,” said activist Theo Schnarr.

“People are ready for a transformation and you just have to start it.” —

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