Climate change awareness begins with us

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”, said the author Aldous Huxley. When it comes to our collective impact on the Earth’s natural environment, however, ignoring the facts seems to be quite the normal thing to do. With the facts warning of ever higher stakes, for example in relation to climate change, loss of biodiversity and depletion of natural resources, for the most part we carry on as before.

New research released this week by the Climate Week campaign shows how many of us say we won’t change our behaviour because of the scientific facts on climate change. And there are plenty of challenging facts out there. We remain, it seems, for the large part unmoved by the technical facts. So what will get us paying attention?

Part of the challenge, and this backed up by the same research, is that there is insufficient social evidence of behavioural change taking place, so most people don’t change. It’s rather like hearing a fire alarm and watching everyone carrying on as if nothing is happening. If by contrast people start to run, then others would follow. And so it goes on climate change, the alarm is sounded, but most of us carry on as before.

We hear the facts but because we don’t see many other people changing their lifestyles we assume, in quite a subconscious way, that the problem can’t be as serious as it’s being made out. So here we have a quandary – who goes first? And what is the catalyst to make us change our behaviour if scientific facts aren’t persuasive? This particular piece of research hints at good, old-fashioned peer pressure. After our partners, friends are the most likely to be persuasive in getting us to change our behaviour, with 41% of people saying they were influenced by their friends. Interestingly, of those, 84% said this was because they didn’t want to be the odd one out.

Fitting in has always been a powerful motivator of human behaviour. However, in order to cause that shift to environmentally responsible behaviour, we need to ensure it becomes far more mainstream.

From the research conducted from climate week it would appear that we need to make taking action on climate change more visible, socially normal and thus culturally embedded. We need to talk about it more, particularly with those closest to us, and by acting as if there was a problem, and in so doing to begin inspiring new patterns of normal behaviour.

One man who is a living example of this process in action is Garry Channock, who convinced hundreds of people in his village – Ashton Hayes in Cheshire- to go green and make the village carbon neutral. After getting hundreds of residents to install loft insulation, use less energy and recycle, Garry turned his attention ways in which the village could produce its own renewable energy. He teamed up with a group of retired engineers to raise money and install a wind turbine. He is now in the process of setting up a mini ’smart grid’, which will power local shops, schools and pubs. In order to help other communities, Garry has just founded Carbon Leapfrog, which operates like a match-making service for community initiatives.

If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you care about the stress we are collectively causing to the Earth’s fragile systems, and the consequence that this will most likely cause for people in the not too distant future. The good news is that you have more positive power than you probably think. In the end it will not be only the clever policies and technologies that will enable humans to live indefinitely on this little planet, it will be our collective cultural norms. Those norms are not shaped first and foremost by government proclamations or international treaties, they are determined by what you and I do. If we do things differently, then culture can change.

There are many examples of great role models out there, and this is one of the things that climate week aims to highlight. If you know someone, a group or a business that deserves to be recognised then have a look at the Climate Week Hero awards on and nominate the people who are changing the world from within, by shifting that most difficult of all barriers – our collective culture.

Originally published by The Independent.