By Stephen Leahy*
BROOKLIN, Canada, Apr 3 (IPS) – Sweeping societal change is a slow and erratic business. The civil rights movement in the United States went nowhere for decades and then exploded in the 1960s. Not long ago, smokers could light up anywhere they pleased in Canada and the U.S. Now they are mostly confined to a few outdoor areas and as a consequence, far fewer people smoke.
“There’s been a major shift in values regarding smoking,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change at Yale University.
Anti-smoking laws, higher taxes, and knowledge about the health impacts of second-hand smoke were all factors driving the shift, Leiserowitz told IPS.
While most people are concerned about climate change, they view it as a largely abstract problem, and fail to equate it with devastating weather events such as Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, he said.
[ *This story is part three of a four-part examination of the psychological and behavioural changes needed to dial down the temperature on our global greenhouse. Part one: Climate Change Reshaping Civilization Part two: Climate River in Full Flood Part four: CLIMATE CHANGE: A Game With Too Many Free Riders ]
However, that might be changing. Australians suffering record droughts made more intense by climate change elected a new prime minister in 2007 in part because the incumbent refused to act on carbon dioxide emissions.
“Arguably, John Howard (the former prime minister) was the first national leader to lose their job over climate,” Leiserowitz said.
Howard could have plenty of company in the decade ahead as people begin to open their eyes to the subtle and dramatic impacts of climate change. The latter will become what is known as “focusing events”, not unlike the terror attacks on the U.S. of Sep. 11, 2001, and which result in huge societal shifts.
Paradoxically, the looming U.S. recession may spur a stronger desire for action, Leiserowitz believes. When the general perception is that all is well, people are much more resistant to change. “If the system is perceived to be broken, then people are more open to change things to make things better,” he said.
This makes it a good time to integrate the three principles of climate-safe living: first, reduce fossil fuel consumption everywhere; second, eliminate all non-essential activities and products that involve burning fossil fuel; and third, demand that business and government provide transport, activities and products that minimise fossil fuel use.
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