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Public response to climate change

The public has been taken on a twenty year roller-coaster of conflicting opinion about climate change.  Media reports confirming its dangers are followed by opinion-driven articles questioning its causes, scientific data and predicted consequences. The lack of clear leadership in shaping global measures to cut emissions suggests some politicians share this confusion.  It is no surprise that so many people are worried and confused about climate change, but the consequent lack of public engagement and understanding make it all the more dangerous.

The economic crisis means governments are worried about the cost and competitive disadvantage of carbon reduction measures.  Over the last two years, some politicians have made it clear that climate change should take second place to economic growth. Such thinking also explains the lack of progress at the UN climate talks and justifies their apparent lack of urgency. 

The need for a global climate deal has also been questioned by people who believe that market forces can drive the take up of renewable energy faster than a negotiated deal.  Some politicians may hope this to be the case, but it is a dangerous assumption, especially when global investment in renewable energy fell by more than 10% in 2012 - as a result of the lack of clarity about long term climate policy.  Politicians often tell us that green growth is essential in the fight against climate change, but there is no guarantee that market forces alone can act in time to prevent dangerous climate change, especially when some governments (e.g. Spain and the UK) are reining back on schemes that encourage investment in renewable energy.  The reason for any market is to make money, so carbon reduction can only be a secondary benefit, not their prime purpose.

The lack of transparency about government subsidies to fossil fuel companies makes it harder for the public to assess their costs and influence. For an insight into the way fossil fuel companies tried to influence the outcome of the US presidential election, and push effective action on climate change into touch, see:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/us/politics/fossil-fuel-industry-opens-wallet-to-defeat-obama.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

 

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