Asking people to focus on local issues will do more global good.
The United Nations 21st Climate Change Conference is now concluding. Members from 195 countries met in Paris to seal the first universal and binding pact to react against climate change. You are probably already yawning. Yes, because everyone keeps talking about it, it is everywhere in the news, and most of the time in a tediously serious way. If you have ever had a laugh or enjoyed a talk about climate change, this was probably Obama’s speech at the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And you are not alone; just to give you some key facts:
- Scientist and filmmaker Randy Oslon publicly stated that climate change is a boring subject
- Also Owen Jones, columnist for The Guardian, recently wrote that climate change “remains a subject to be dropped into “worthy but dull, can someone else sort it out” box”
- In the article “Carbon Capture”, Jonathan Franzen expressed his concerns about the monopoly of climate change in the environmental debate
Mosquitoes and dogs
These are claims that echoed far, coming from well-known personalities and magazines with strong circulations. However, most of the population seem to think the same, as recently pointed out by Capstick et al. (2015). The British research team conducted a systematic review on the public perception of climate change worldwide and how it changed since the 1980’s. The results? While thirty years ago we knew global warming was a threat but we were not aware of the causes, now we are well informed about the science behind climate change, but we don’t believe in it and in its importance anymore. That is unless you are in Africa or South America, where public concerns on climate change have increased, as well as overall environmental awareness, as observed by other researchers (White and Hunter, 2009).
This second study also suggests that local environmental conditions play a major role in shaping these concerns. If you lack clean freshwater or if you recurrently experience flooding you are likely to be more sensitive to such problems. Based on that, scholars from Indiana found a loophole in climate change apathy. Wiest et al. (2015) discovered that translating the global issue of global warming into more local terms will make you feel more engaged. What does it mean? Instead of talking about flooding or endangered wildlife all over the world, we should focus the discussion and the policy actions on issues like your garden vegetables not growing as good as the past years, more and more mosquitoes biting you, or your dog suffering from exotic diseases.
Think globally, act locally
There is another disadvantage of keeping the focus on the global level: If people feel like doing something eco-friendly they could start worrying about how small their impact will be on a global scale. That doesn’t help. Even the horoscope agrees. Don’t you believe in horoscopes? Me neither, but Rob Breszny’s is another story. He wrote a nice anecdote that will vividly mark the end of my story.
“A flyer on a telephone pole caught my eye. It showed a photo of a nine-year-old male cat named Bubby, whose face was contorted in pain. A message from Bubby’s owner revealed that her beloved pet desperately needed expensive dental work. She had launched a campaign at gofundme.com to raise the cash. Of course I broke into tears, as I often do when confronted so viscerally with the suffering of sentient creatures. I longed to donate to Bubby’s well-being. But I thought, “Shouldn’t I funnel my limited funds to a bigger cause, like the World Wildlife Fund?” Back home an hour later, I sent $25 to Bubby. After analyzing the astrological omens for my own sign, Cancer the Crab, I realized that now is a time to adhere to the principle “Think globally, act locally” in every way imaginable.”
Capstick, S., Whitmarsh, L., Poortinga, W., Pidgeon, N., & Upham, P. (2015). International trends in public perceptions of climate change over the past quarter century Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 6 (1), 35-61 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.321
White, M., & Hunter, L. (2009). Public Perception of Environmental Issues in a Developing Setting: Environmental Concern in Coastal Ghana Social Science Quarterly, 90 (4), 960-982 DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2009.00672.x
Wiest, S., Raymond, L., & Clawson, R. (2015). Framing, partisan predispositions, and public opinion on climate change Global Environmental Change, 31, 187-198 DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.12.006