I am wrestling with a question Angus Hardie, director of Local People Leading (LPL), posed online a few weeks ago. For a number of years I have been involved in this unique Scottish organisationon, an alliance of national networks and community groups that has been created to campaign for a strong and independent community sector.
“What causes our behaviour to change? A great deal of public policy is designed with this question in mind and an entire advertising industry has been built around it.
Last week’s climate change report from IPCC – reflecting the work of 300 climate scientists and 12,000 peer reviewed academic articles – was the starkest warning yet that the future of the planet is at risk. We now know that climate change is happening, that human activity is responsible for it and that its impact on humankind will be severe, pervasive and irreversible.
And yet it barely raised a peep. Despite the fact that Scotland has world leading climate change legislation, renewable energy in abundance and a vibrant community sector taking local action to tackle climate change, there is still a sense that much of this activity happens at the ‘green margins’ of society. But yet the inescapable conclusion of the IPCC report is that a low carbon future can no longer be viewed simply as a lifestyle option. That time has passed. The science is unequivocal about this. But will it change our behaviour? Doesn’t seem very likely. So what will?”
It takes a lot to change, to break a lifetime’s habits based on what sociologists called “socialisation”. It starts as a child: we pick up norms, outlook, attitudes, opinions from our parents, then from our peers….and in the background of course are society’s norms, perhaps the most powerful of all.
Personally, in 2014, I am optimistic that change is actually happening. It may seem glacially slow at the moment but at least Climate Change (C.C.) is now featuring in the school curriculum, and a big public debate is underway.
However, whilst the facts about C.C. are gradually becoming accepted, there is a reluctance by policy makers to reward ethical behaviour. There is an urgent need to implement policies that encourage people to lead low carbon lives. What happened to Tradable Energy Quotas, a brilliant economic lever devised by a man called David Fleming? TEQs guarantee minimum carbon-emitting shares for all. They also allow individuals to exceed their basic entitlement if they are willing to pay those who do not: it’s a privilege they have to pay for.
It was looked into by the British Government in 2009 before being dropped. Silently. No one apart from a few geeks like me even got to hear about it. It did make the Sunday broadsheets once.
In the next two blogs I will look at my attempts to get people in my local region skilled up about growing, buying and cooking local food, making their homes more energy efficiency and leading low carbon lifestyles.
By engaging with people in my bioregion on a regular, ongoing basis, casual acquaintances become trusted collaborators in low carbon living.