Rotorua Daily Post

‘TACKLING CRISIS TOGETHER’

Beating climate change is a global team effort. It starts with Government­s and polluting industries — but we can all play a part. In the final of a five-part series from the upcoming book Climate Aotearoa: What’s happening and what we can do about it, Her

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By focusing too much on individual action in fighting climate change, do we risk shifting the blame from those bigger polluters? Climate change campaigner David Tong says the choices we make as people and consumers are shaped by the fundamenta­l economic and political structures we live in, and those structures still don’t fully factor in the price of carbon.

That means individual lifestyle or purchasing impacts are limited.

There are many ways people can lower the effects in many ways, he argues, but we need to make sure we don’t guilt-trip them or shift blame on to individual­s.

After all, more than a third of global emissions since 1965 can be traced to the 20 biggest fossil-fuel companies, and almost 70 per cent of global emissions can be tied to 100 firms.

That’s not to say legitimate carboncutt­ing efforts aren’t being made by big corporates here — notably with the newly launched Climate Leaders Coalition with its heavyweigh­t members like Fonterra, Z Energy and The Warehouse Group — or overseas.

Coca-cola is trying to shrink its carbon footprint by a quarter within the next five years. Within the same timeframe Mcdonald’s aims to source all its packaging from recycled materials, and beauty giant L’oreal wants to become carbon-neutral.

But should the same pressure be heaped on individual consumers?

Tong feels individual people have the most power not in lifestyle or buying decisions, but in compelling Government­s and companies to keep climate factors at the forefront.

It was people — and especially tangata whenua — who secured the ban on oil and gas exploratio­n offshore, and it was young Kiwis who came up with the idea of the Zero Carbon Act, and who pushed until 119 MPS voted for it.

“Ultimately, even the Paris Agreement itself is proof of the power people have in pushing decisionma­kers,” Tong said.

“Perhaps the most important thing about individual action is that it makes us more compelling advocates for systemic change.

“Research shows that people trust calls for climate action and justice more when the person making the call is walking the talk.”

So, how can people effect change? Aside from voting carefully and joining protests when they happen, Tong recommends using social media to apply direct pressure, emailing and phoning local MPS and district councillor­s, and getting involved with advocacy volunteer groups.

“And volunteeri­ng for a group like a non-government organisati­on doesn’t have to come with a scary, psychologi­cal barrier,” he said.

“These groups generally just believe in good things and want to make them happen.”

And it’s worth noting another psychologi­cal barrier we all need to get past. Scientists rightly call climate change a “wicked problem”, because science itself can’t overcome it — especially when we begin normalisin­g climate conditions we shouldn’t be normalisin­g.

In one fascinatin­g study, a group of United States researcher­s illustrate­d this danger by quantifyin­g a timeless and universal pastime — talking about the weather — using an analysis of posts on Twitter.

They sampled 2.18 billion geolocated tweets created between

March 2014 and November 2016, to determine what kind of temperatur­es generated the most posts about weather.

They found that people often tweet when temperatur­es are unusual for a particular place and time of year — an especially warm March or an unexpected­ly freezing winter, for example.

However, if the same weather persisted year after year, it generated less comment on Twitter, indicating that people began to view it as normal in a relatively short amount of time.

This phenomenon, the authors

noted, was a classic case of the boiling frog metaphor.

If a frog jumps into a pot of boilinghot water, it immediatel­y hops out.

If, however, the water in the pot is slowly warmed to a boiling temperatur­e while the frog is in it, it doesn’t hop out, and is eventually cooked.

A similar problem is climate apathy.

Journalist­s may have largely learned to ignore the misguided ramblings of cranks who reject climate science, but the apocalypti­c narratives that often colour our reporting can only deepen that public sense of hopelessne­ss.

Because the potentiall­y devastatin­g consequenc­es of global warming threaten our fundamenta­l tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair, people often respond by discountin­g the evidence, or by simply saying that the problem is too big.

A case in point is the weathertwe­et survey mentioned above, indicating that most Kiwis feel we won’t be able to avert catastroph­e.

Research suggests that if the media — and scientists — avoid doomsday narratives and focus on positive messages, people will not only be more receptive of the evidence, but will also be more willing to reduce their carbon footprint.

And we can indeed say this: Kiwis now overwhelmi­ngly accept that evidence, and recognise the threat.

But, as Tong notes, while awareness can drive action, it doesn’t automatica­lly lead to action.

“People change their behaviour when they see a problem, and see how they can be part of fixing it,” he said.

“It’s not enough to show people that we face a climate crisis. We also need to build a new narrative of how we can solve this crisis together.”

 ??  ?? Book extract from
Climate Aotearoa What’s happening & what we can do about it, edited by Helen
Clark
Published by Allen & Unwin NZ RRP$36.99. Available in stores from Monday, April 19
Book extract from Climate Aotearoa What’s happening & what we can do about it, edited by Helen Clark Published by Allen & Unwin NZ RRP$36.99. Available in stores from Monday, April 19
 ?? Photo / Getty Images ?? It was people — such as these Waiho Papa Moana Hikoi protesters in 2014 — who secured NZ’S ban on oil and gas exploratio­n offshore.
Photo / Getty Images It was people — such as these Waiho Papa Moana Hikoi protesters in 2014 — who secured NZ’S ban on oil and gas exploratio­n offshore.

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