© 2009 Steven Wong

Climate change and popular attitudes

I had a short but interesting talk with a friend’s mom yesterday about climate change and behaviour change.  I tend to think that most people believe that climate change is real and are concerned enough to do something about it, as long as it’s not too invasive or expensive.  My own family is generally pretty hip to the game, doing a lot of recycling and composting, and renovating with energy and resource efficiency in mind, though the bottom line is almost always the cost.

I think it’s great that people take these kind of steps to reduce their environmental impact.  However, I’m convinced that these little changes to our everyday lives won’t really amount to much.  Collectively they’ll make a difference, but a difference on the order of a few percentage points.  If we need to really make a dent in our combined greenhouse gas emissions, that’s going to take a lot more than just plastic bag taxes and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Unfortunately, it’s also going to cost a lot to change that.  Our society has been built on cheap energy, with oil and other fossil fuels powering machines that have replaced human or animal power.  Think about it.  Life before the industrial revolution was difficult.  Back-breaking work.  Technological advances have helped, but nothing like what the discovery of oil and its energy potential has done.

There’s the idea that replacing fossil fuel energy with renewable energy will negate the need to substantially change our behaviours.  I don’t think, though, that we’ll be able to make the switch in time to prevent some sort of cataclysmic change in the way we live, whether it’s to adapt to less energy or to a worsening climate.

This dilemma has been captured beautifully in a great short video by Germanwatch, an environmental NGO.  It’s in German with English subtitles, but it’s definitely worth 3 of your minutes.