climate change: cause and effect, and effect

Sadly, while this post was originally published in 2009, the situation is largely the same. I only hope Extinction Rebellion will have a greater impact.

Attended another climate change conference this week (and watched the Age of Stupid). Some excellent presentations on social science approaches to changing individuals’ behaviour in order to minimise their carbon emissions.

However I worry we are missing the point here – trying to change people’s behaviour and not their motivations.

It all comes down to how you analyse cause and effect in climate change. Nearly everyone (who is well read on the subject) believes the effect, climate change, is caused by carbon emissions. We of course try to target the cause and not the effect and get people to reduce their carbon emissions at source.

But I think our behaviour, in wasting so much energy and creating these emissions, is in itself an effect and not the cause we should be tackling. Perhaps obvious, but it is consumerism and the values it promotes which is the cause of our behaviour.

Trying to tackle behaviour without tackling our values, the things which motivate us, may well be futile. If you think your only route to self worth is through conspicuous consumption, you will always revert to type and the behaviours we change will be replaced by other habits to help you fulfil your need to consume.

We need to change our value system as well as our behaviour, but policy makers seem frightened to raise this as it requires them and us to dream up a new value system.

There were glimers of hope.  There was recognition that telling people they can save money on energy bills might feed into their money focus. And the chief policy maker present gave one aim which clearly goes beyond behaviour to values – put simply ‘we need to make being wasteful taboo’.