Act now to avoid climate fight fatigue

Feb 5, 2020 | Blogs

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times says that the climate fight will hit low earners hardest. This is too simple.

Poor people getting the raw end of the deal is a timeless argument. And rightly so. The poorest half of the world is responsible for just 10% of global carbon emissions. And yet these vulnerable people face the most devastating consequences of climate change: flooding, famine, and fire.

It’s not hard to see why low earners may resent being told they are responsible for fixing the planet.

The recent Australian election is a case in point. Dubbed the ‘climate change election’, the race was won by climate change-denier Scott Morrison. While media misjudged the public’s appetite for change, it certainly underestimated climate fight fatigue.

Do new terms like ‘climate emergency’ preach to the choir? Is climate change a worry reserved for only those who know about bamboo clothes and burrata? Well, yes and no.

Climate change is real and is an emergency, as shown most recently by raging Australian bushfires. But governments and business must acknowledge that it is not always front and foremost of people’s minds.

Messaging, such as Stephens’, that likens government sustainability actions to austerity cuts, is harmful. It stirs up anti-sustainability sentiment by screaming “you are to blame” and “you must pay”.

Assumptions made in the FT article that sustainable energy is expensive and “cheap flights will disappear” are unfounded. EasyJet’s announcement as the world’s first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights across its whole network illustrates this. And solar and wind energy are now so affordable that they don’t need government subsidies.

Yes, climate change is an emergency that is reshaping economies and societies. No, it is not solely the role of the everyman to fix!

Business and governments need to wake up to this climate fight fatigue. They are vital in spurring demand for sustainable energy and goods. They can show sustainability as possible, beneficial and cheap. They should encourage individuals to pick up the climate fight gauntlet. They should not pin the blame.

Climate fighters show no sign of quietening down. But beware also the climate fatigued.

Business and government take note.