Climate change: the people of Sheffield understand we need system change and reduced inequality

I very much enjoyed last week hearing a report of the preliminary findings of the INTERSECTION University of Sheffield Faculty of Social Sciences research programme, on which I was invited to respond.

It surveyed people on their views on climate change, particularly as related to intergenerational justice, is Sheffield, and also in cities in Uganda and China.

This session focused on the Sheffield results. Respondents, in my view rightly, did not blame older generations for climate change, pointing out that the science was not clear enough, or sufficiently promulgated, for people to have known the impact of their actions. They said that governments and industry were chiefly responsible for sustainable practices. “Some blame pliticians and business leaders for policy failure, corruption and lack of foresight.”

The researchers indicated disappointment that, beyond recycling, most people were not explicitly changing their personal behaviour to tackle climate change. We didn’t have an analysis of the respondents’ socio-economic status, but assuming it was broadly representative, that’s not unreasonable.

Most people get, at least on an instinctive level, that they through small personal action aren’t going to make a significant difference.

In there is the understanding that we need transformational system change to tackle climate change.

There was indeed a hint that the need for system change was evident to respondents. When asked who they blamed for climate change “the rich” came high on the list – at sixty three per cent, and respondents also thought that the rich would be among those most impacted.

There’s an understanding the reasons why economic and environmental justice are inextricably linked – those who will have to most cut their consumption are those consuming the most, broadly the rich.

It was good to hear strong support for the plastic bag charge and microbead ban.  There was strong desire for similar measures – good news for proposals for a charge on disposable coffee cups.

In the international work, it was interesting to hear how theatre in Uganda was helping to spread the word about the damage done by deforestation and promoting alternative more climate-friendly fuels – a reminder of the importance of the arts in social change. (Yes the arts that our government is consistently downgrading in our education system.

In the small group discussion after the presentations, we discussed how fear makes people consume, and how empowered people are less likely to consume. So much of our current consumption is a product of insecurity and fear.

Image from the Visual Minutes record of the Global Greens Congress in Liverpool last week.