Sunday, December 30, 2007

'Green fatigue' leads to fear of backlash over climate change

Guardian (UK): British people are now convinced about the dangers of global warming but are either baffled about how to stop it or are ignoring the issue. Analysts say few people are taking action to deal with the threat of climate change, although over the past 12 months the vast majority have come to accept that it poses a real threat to the world. Opinion polls reveal much confusion among the public about what Britain should do to combat the problem.

A backlash is now a real threat, said Phil Downing, head of environmental research for Ipsos Mori. 'There's cynicism because on the one hand we're being told [the problem] is very serious and on the other hand we're building runways, mining Alaskan oil; there's a lot going on that appears to be heading in the opposite direction.'

This is particularly evident in the huge public resistance to green taxes. 'There's a cynicism the government is using the green agenda as an excuse for hitting motorists and people who want to fly,' added Downing.

… The report by Ipsos Mori that found that almost nine out of 10 people believe climate change is happening also revealed that there was a lack of understanding about what should be done to counteract it. In particular, it was discovered that there is a general reluctance for people to do anything significant on their own. Although 70 per cent thought 'the world will soon experience a major environmental crisis', virtually nobody said they were prepared to do anything about it beyond trying to reuse plastic bags and recycle some rubbish.

The problem is heightened by the government's own failure to halt rises of carbon dioxide emissions, despite its pledges to cut them drastically. Traffic on UK roads rose in the first three quarters of 2007, peaking at 132 billion vehicle kilometres between July to September. At the same time, numbers of flights worldwide rose 4.7 per cent to nearly 30 million during 2007. In Britain, carbon emissions have risen in five out of the 10 years that New Labour have been in power and are now 2.2 per cent higher than they were in 1997. By any standards the government is doing very badly when it comes to taking effective action to deal with carbon emissions.

There are some encouraging signs with more people taking action into their own hands, for example by insulating their lofts to cut fuel bills, or by joining movements like Transition Towns where communities agree to reduce their dependence on coal, oil and gas. Businesses are investing in more eco-friendly products in expectation, said Richard Lambert, the CBI's director-general. 'They are ahead of the consumer.'

Whether the public becomes more proactive in 2008 when it comes to climate change depends on several issues, added analysts. A key factor will be the weather, said West. 'If we have a nice average year, whatever that means, people will say: "Climate change: what of it?" But if we have either an extreme heatwave or more flooding, I think there's going to be a cumulative effect. The next time we have a national-scale weather-related emergency, people will say: "Enough ... we can't allow this to be normal". In a way, if that happens, it makes our job easier, but clearly I don't want to wish a disaster on anyone.'

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