Is Climate Change Awareness an Innovation?

After our class discussion about ignorance of people about climate change and passionate wake up call from Jennifer in the Blog :), I wanted to bring up an interesting analogy that I think there is between convincing the village people that boiling their water is good in the article “Diffusion of Innovation” vs convincing people (mostly westerners) that something is going wrong with earth and that stopping polluting is good.

Just has boiling water didn’t go well with the village beliefs, stopping polluting/consuming doesn’t seem to go well with western beliefs/habits of consumption/capitalism/etc… The reality is that we are brainwashed 24/7 that we have to buy more and more stuff… disposable goods, fashion, marketing & more marketing all good incitatives to make us consume more & more (this is just a few examples).

We can continue the analogy with the scientist trying to convince the people of the village by explaining them
the scientific reasons to boil the water vs the environmentalists trying to explain the scientific reasons to stop polluting. A very little percentage of the population actually understand anything of it. It comes in one hear and goes out from the other; or it is rapidly forgotten under… just everything else. Furthermore the environmentalists themselves are marginalised… although it is less and less true they are still seen by a lot of people as tree huggers, hippies and dreamers… whatever.. the point is that most people don’t relate to them, just as nobody in the village relate to the westener scientist.

So my conclusion is that climate change awareness (and environment-friendly habits) is an Innovation that currently (and unfortunately) goes against western values. As westeners have been conquering the world and propagating their values all over the globe during the last centuries… I think that we are in big troubles. It’s going to take much more than regulations, sensibilization or a Tsunami to change the way people think.

There is already a few early adopters, but how are we going to manage to diffuse that innovation to the rest of the people? This is a hard problem and maybe quite critical, but we could (& should) probably inspire ourselves and learn from the diffusion of other innovations.

5 Responses to “Is Climate Change Awareness an Innovation?”

  1. brad says:

    I think the problem has more to do with human nature in general: we tend to have a hard time changing behavior when the consequences of our actions don’t appear until later. Look at smoking as an analogy: lots of people still smoke, despite full knowledge of the risks, because they gain immediate pleasure and won’t experience the negative consequences until years later. Climate change is like that too: we get a lot of immediate benefits from burning fossil fuels and yet the consequences take decades to develop. I think the solution to climate change is going to involve either making climate-friendly technologies so cool and desirable that everyone will want to use them, or else attaching some sort of stigma to burning fossil fuels (similar to “kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray”), or both.

  2. Yes, human resistance to change is definitely part of the problem, and current western values do place a large emphasis on consumerism and profit. I would also say that the media is part of the problem, both in enforcing those values and in being a poor tool for spreading awareness. Many scientific studies that accurately report environmental problems caused by pollution, etc. get blown out of proportion when reported to the general public. Then, because most of the population either does not understand what the study really says or does not bother to find out, such a study comes to be seen as a doom day prophecy. Then when the ‘prophecy’ does not ‘come true’, the public comes to think that the study must have had no true scientific value. This happened for years now, and people just started to ignore each new report of higher smog levels, health problems caused by polluted water, or enlargement of the the hole in the ozone layer. It may not be as bad now, but science as reported by the media is still largely discounted. Unfortunately, it is still the only exposure most people have to information that might spread their awareness of global climate change. I think a new mechanism needs to found to spread awareness. Sadly, I don’t think a TV ad campaign on global climate change would be enough, but I lack any better ideas. Except for beginning environmental education at a much younger level. Teach not just ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ in elementary schools, but also how the parts of an ecosystem (and the world biosphere) connect and interact. We did this some long ago when I was in elementary school, but I know that it is not as wide spread as it needs to be for environmental awareness to be a solid part of basic education.

  3. Valérie says:

    I think that more and more people are aware of environmental problems. In fact a couple of surveys that have been out lately told us that Canadians really care about the environment. The real problem with climate change is that people are ask to do things, e.g. taking the bus, which go against North Americans way of life. People are asking themselves “Why should I sacrifice my comfort in being squeeze in a bus or a subway?”. I think the solution to this is an integrated approach to the problem where the Canadian government will try to solve the very roots of climate change by not just suggesting that we change our behaviour (e.g. the One Tone Challenge), but put in place some measures that will really contribute to this change (e.g. more money in public transport, incentive measures for companies to reduce their greenhouse gases emissions, more stronger environmental laws, new standards for car emissions, etc.).