THE BLOG

Public Perception of Environmentalism Is Key to Fighting Climate Change

10/06/2015 08:40 BST | Updated 09/06/2016 10:59 BST

A YouGov survey this week yielded worrying findings about the attitude of the British public towards climate change. Unlike in China, where only 4% of people don't think climate change is a serious problem, here in the UK the figure is 26% of the population. Furthermore, far fewer people in the UK than in most other nations surveyed want their representatives to agree binding deals internationally on tackling climate change. This bodes ill for the COP21 summit in Paris later this year, where we will be represented by a government already far too unwilling to make such deals - an unconcerned British public will simply contribute to this lack of will.

I don't think this lack of public concern has always been the case. Back in 2007, after the

film 'An Inconvenient Truth' was released, the 4th IPPC report exposed disastrous outcomes of climate chaos and the Stern Report laid bare the potential consequences of a failure to address global warming, there was a greater sense of urgency; a greater sense that we must do what it takes to halt climate change. Surveys at the time even highlighted that the public perceived environmental and climate issues to be more important that tackling terrorism. And although since then, recycling has become more widespread, some wealthier households have installed solar panels, and more action has been taken globally, there is a sense that the time of inspired collective power has passed, and that many people have reached a time of environmental apathy in tackling the deep rooted-issues that are impacting our precious climate.

So what went wrong?

One answer is that in recent years, other issues have taken centre stage. We have seen endless wars in the middle east, and the rise of ISIS. We have seen increasing tensions between Russia and the West. And at home in the UK we've been distracted by the crisis in our NHS, the creeping privatisation of our public services and a rapidly shifting political climate that is leading the British public to feel the impact of "death by a thousand cuts".

Another factor is the nature of our political climate. With the Conservatives in power, and challenged more strongly than ever on the right by Ukip, UK policy-making has been increasingly inward-looking. The fear-mongering of the right over immigration and the power of Brussels has led to a political narrative ever more focussed on Britain and the British, with the global picture pushed out of view. The Conservatives have left renewable energy by the wayside, and acted as an obstacle rather than a driving force in global climate negotiations, providing no leadership on the issue; by their silence they are reinforcing the view of too many people that tackling the biggest crisis the world faces is a lesser concern than making budget savings. The fact that the election debates as well as the Queens speech failed to address our ever looming climate crisis highlights that our silence narrows the debate and thus narrows the vision of the future we are trying to build.

But it's not just external factors which are hindering the progress of the environmental movement in gathering support. All too often, we are seen as a movement which would save the planet at the expense of people. We are perceived as wanting to take from people - their cars, their consumer goods, and fundamentally their freedom - in order to give to an abstract concept of the earth. We are failing to make the link between social and environmental justice, and to convey the human cost - not only future but present - of climate change.

Across the world, farmers' crops are failing; flooding is devastating people's homes; here in the UK we are starting to see deaths from excessive summer heat. Halting global warming won't only save our children's children from catastrophe, it will save lives now. Insulating homes across the country won't only save energy, it will lift millions out of fuel poverty. Investing in research and development for renewable energy won't only allow the UK to make a vital reduction in carbon emissions, it will create skilled jobs for generations.

If we want people to get behind the movement fighting climate change, we have to make it clear what that means: not sacrificing the things we need to save a few trees, but working towards a radical overhaul of our economy to make it work for this generation and the next; make it work for the many, not the few; and make it truly fit for the future.

We will never change public perception unless we challenge it - and it is down to each of us to be challenging the media and political blackout of these issues as well as the actions we need to take to tackle them. On the run up to Paris we need to be putting pressure on delegates to support bold solutions, and as climate campaigners we need to remember that Paris isn't the end of the campaign, but is just one stop on our road of campaigning for the essential solutions to tackle our impact on the climate.