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The False Narrative of Changing our Behaviour to Fix the Climate

The Guardian published the results of a 10-country survey on behavioural changes people are willing to make to combat climate change. Foretelling the authors angle, two of the titles in the study presentation are “Accelerating behaviour change for a sustainable future” and “Sharing the responsibility for climate action”.

The implication from this form of phrasing is that we as individuals are responsible for climate change. We are not. And going down this path is buying into a narrative that has been peddled for years by business and industry with the specific intent to clean their hands of that responsibility.

We saw it with recycling. We were led to believe that if we recycled, things would get better. They did not. And the reason for this is that we are not responsible for materials being overproduced and wasted. Individuals don’t mass produce goods. Businesses do.

The premise of the study is therefore incorrect and the results void of any usefulness. A more sustainable future cannot come by asking people to change their behaviour. Expecting that this will happen is, in effect, saying that businesses are waiting for consumers to change, and if consumers don’t change, businesses won’t either, and therefore we’re all fucked and it’s our fault.

The madness in repeating this narrative is infuriating. Primarily because it’s entirely backwards. We are part of a system, so change has to come from the top down. Governments must put laws and incentives in place, businesses will then change how and what they produce, and finally consumers will automatically make the more sustainable choices.

Some of the survey questions frame the problem using “I” in a way that are immediate non-starters.

I don’t think there is an agreement among experts on the best solutions to preserve the planet

I disagree with the question. There is no set of solutions that will fix everything. We don’t need the best solutions and debating which ones are the best is pointless. We need all the help we can get and so we should apply all solutions. If a solution gets us one drop in the ocean closer to our goal, we should use it.

I lack information and guidance about what to do

I think I’m more informed than the average person, but again, the problem is not that every single citizen needs more information in order to solve the climate crisis. We do not hold the levers that can make these changes happen. I don’t have a billion dollar chequebook and I don’t control an oil multinational. Do you?

I believe environmental threats are over estimated

What I believe does not matter. If the captain of the ship says we’re about to hit an iceberg, what I personally believe has absolutely no bearing on what needs to be done. It’s not our job as citizens to decide what is the level of threat. We are seeing first hand during this pandemic the terrible damage that occurs when individuals unilaterally make societal decisions. We cannot ask the patient to decide on a course of treatment. That’s the doctor’s job.

Of course we do have to change our habits. Some of us don’t know it yet and that is fine. Because the problem is not us. We only consume the products and services that are offered to us. The idea that businesses are waiting to offer cleaner or more sustainable products until consumers start buying them is ridiculous. If the only car available is an electric one, that’s what people will buy. Businesses have to offer cleaner products and services. And it’s the government that has the power to force them to do it.

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