Overcoming Inertia – Part II

By Lisa Mol

After reading the article by I-Hsien Porter (Geography Directions 04/02/2011) I found myself nodding in agreement. There is a very good argument made that we simply are not doing enough to combat climate change, despite the plethora of warnings, reports and witness statements that our environment is changing, often not for the better. With this fresh in my mind, an article in The Guardian by Guy Shrubsole and Alex Randall caught my eye. They show that not only is the press release that ‘the UK’s carbon emissions have dropped’ false, worse is that when consumption of imported goods and services are factored in they have in fact risen. The government knows this, but is avoiding taking action at all costs, instead pulling the wool over our eyes with reassuring and rather selective statistics.  This brings another interesting dimension to the debate, as not only do we face inertia from politics, we also face outright deceiving and obscuring of the facts.

But the problem does not necessarily exclusively lie with the Government. As Shrubsole and Randall show, between a quarter and a third of China’s emissions are now the ultimate responsibility of western countries.  Our hunger for cheap consumer products drives a market that puts environmental issues on the back burner in favour of maximum profits. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone. Last weekend, I went to one of those mass-produced very cheap clothing stores to buy some tops for summer. Did I check the label to see if the product was not made by child labourers? Or if the base materials are sustainably sourced? No. I checked the price tag. It was only after I got home, looked at my new purchases and re-evaluated that the guilt kicked in. As an environmentally aware Geographer, who writes about Climate Change regularly on this blog surely I should know better? Thankfully Gibson et al (2011) made me feel a bit better by pointing out that I’m no worse than the average household. Apparently promoting public awareness of global risks is inadequate to change behaviour of households, because climate change may be unthinkable within the confines of everyday life. Phew, that’s me excused then. Also, if you’re poor you don’t fuel the economy and therefore don’t fuel polluting industries, but are also less likely to make environmentally responsible choices in everyday life. If you’re rich, you are driving these industries, travelling a lot but also more likely to make more sustainable choices when it comes to buying products and services. I’m a grad student who needs to travel a lot. So that makes me the worst of both worlds I guess.  What to do? If the Government is in denial and society too complex for a ‘one climate change solution fits all’ approach then where do we start? Well, not shopping at cheap clothing shops seems like a sensible idea. Putting off owning a car for as long as possible also works. Buying meat from the local market rather than supermarket giants is a further step. And mostly, taking every statement of the Government regarding Climate Change with a critical eye and a bag of salt.

I-Hsien Porter”Overcoming inertia not to act on climate change” Geography Directions 04/02/2011

Guy Shrubsole and Alex Randall “The UK must own up to the full scale of its emission problem” The Guardian 09/02/2011

Chris Gibson, Lesley Head, Nick Gill and Gordon Waitt (2011) “Climate change and household dynamics: beyond consumption, unbounding sustainability”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 (1) 3-8

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