Issues related to climate change and environmental footprint are among the most critical ones. This challenge is associated with the fact that even those technically supporting the belief that the problem of deteriorating the natural environment and changing the climate should be tackled fail to take personal responsibility for minimizing their influence on the environment. The problem is that, although they recognize that the costs of changing their deteriorating behaviors would be minimal, somehow the change does not happen. Therefore, for making progress, understanding the factors that predetermine the success of factors contributing to taking action on climate change is of significant importance.
In general terms, there are several factors contributing to the low effectiveness of initiatives aimed at addressing the problem of climate change. These underlying factors are the following: the so-called liberal environmental paradox, the bystander effect, pluralistic ignorance, stereotypes about environmentalists, social norms of attention, and the desire to appear politically independent. All of them will be reviewed in this essay from the perspective of their connection with the issues related to climate change.
The main challenge in tacking the climate change problem is the fact that most people simply do not believe that it actually exists. This one can be explained by the so-called liberal paradox. According to this paradox, no social system can be economically effective, characterized by the minimal scope of freedoms, and function properly at the same time. From the perspective of climate change and environmental issues, this paradox can be explained in the following way: no society could reduce the impact on the natural environment and remain economically powerful.
This paradox is connected to two main reasons. First, in the modern world, being economically powerful stands for the exhaustive impact on the natural environment because economy is driven by innovations and manufacturing, which are not environmentally friendly. To make industries and even individual households environmentally friendly, the state should develop and implement numerous restricting regulations what would, eventually, lead to higher taxes and the need for tremendous investments in modernizing industries. As a result, such increases in costs would entail skyrocketing prices that would destroy demand for the finished products or higher taxes. In this way, the climate change is impossible in the society that strives for economic domination (Oxenham). At least, it is so for now.
One more potentially significant factor is a psychological phenomenon generally referred to as the bystander effect. It stands for choosing to ignore the problems of other people or help them in case of others’ presence. It is mainly caused by the diffusion of responsibility – hoping that someone else would help. Therefore, the more bystanders, the lower chances someone would help a person in need are. The same can be true in the case of addressing climate change. Specifically, the issue is being spoken about globally, which can be perceived as bystanders. As a result, each person hopes that someone else would take actions to diminish the negative impact on the natural environment and solve the problem for them instead of taking personal responsibilities.
This phenomenon could be supplemented by the concepts known as pluralistic ignorance and the spiral of silence. According to the theory of pluralistic ignorance, bias that a particular social group supports a specific belief and, as a result, choosing to maintain the virtually acceptable behavior affects is an inseparable element of the human nature. It results in the spiral of silence – the fear of isolation in response to supporting the supposedly unacceptable viewpoint. From the perspective of climate change, it means that, regardless of being aware of the problem, ordinary people rarely speak of it or think of the ways to address the problem because they believe that others do not believe it exists. According to Deaton, the spiral of silence is one of the most significant issues related to American consciousness because, in the U.S., no one discusses climate change at the level of ordinary people – those, who could actually make change by taking personal responsibility for reducing environmental footprint.
More than that, the choice to ignore the climate change is commonly associated with the stereotypes about environmentalists. Some of the most common ones are the following: environmentalists are vegetarians, hug trees, radical, often seen as hippies, and simply attack those ruining the environment. In other words, they have sympathy for nothing but nature. With these anecdotic stereotypes in mind, people choose to ignore the problem and take no steps to address it because they value their image and do not want to be prejudiced and perceived through the lens of bias.
One more associated bias is the desire to appear politically independent. It is complicated to oppose the fact that environment-related issues are at the heart of numerous political movements and campaign. Because climate change is one of the most critical concerns faced by the modern world, political parties pay significant attention to offering ways to cope with the problem (Deaton). It is hard to find the party that would not speak about it. In this way, those claiming to be apolitical, choose to resist all initiatives offered by any political, and environment-related ones are not an exception. That is why the reluctance to act on climate is a supposed representation of political independence and being individual and unique.
Summing up, all of the abovementioned factors can generally be labeled as the social norms of attention – those things that are normally acceptable to think of or discuss. Regardless of being the manifestation of bias and ignorance, they are strongly embedded into the consciousness of ordinary people, thus making them ignore their own responsibility for tackling the problem of climate change. Instead, they choose to remain silent bystanders driven by the fear of being perceived as radical environmentalists by the society of the exactly the same bystanders.
- Deaton, Jeremy. “Six Charts Show Why No One Is Talking about Climate Change.” Popular Science, 30 Sep. 2016. www.popsci.com/six-charts-show-why-no-one-is-talking-about-climate-change. Accessed 20 Nov. 2017.
- Oxenham, Simon. “Why Do Most American Conservatives Still Refuse to Believe in Climate Change?” BigThink, 2016, bigthink.com/neurobonkers/why-do-most-american-conservatives-still-refuse-to-believe-in-climate-change. Accessed 20 Nov. 2017.