Are we burning the bridges we need to build in order to make progress with climate change?

Environmental organisations and campaigners have made substantial progress in recent years through influencing decisions of divestment and sustainable energy exploration. However, is it possible that, within the running of these projects, there are attitudes and outputs that could be turning some members of the public away from environmental conservation?

The aggression shown towards climate sceptics and the personal attacks taken on companies through publicity and social media are some examples of the ways in which certain environmental bodies may not be best supporting the widely shared goal of creating a globally sustainable future. Instead, is it possible that their actions could be making enemies with the independent and governmental organisations that have the most influence in allowing this goal to be achieved?

Moving forward, there needs to be a change in our attitude towards people who don’t believe in, or act on, climate change responsibly. We need to take on an attitude that brings them on to our side, instead of one that creates enemies.

Often labelled ‘sceptics’, ‘doubters’ or ‘deniers’, there are thousands of people who argue against the proven science that climate change exists. However, being quick to point blame at them could be making things worse.

To give climate change the global, unified response it needs, surely we should be working to bring as many people onto our side as possible. Yet, people who don’t believe in climate change are often presented by environmental groups in a way that offers them no opportunity to connect. They are aggressively singled out and publicly shamed for creating “terrible conspiracy[ies]”, being “desperate” and “idiots” who need convincing of scientific facts. Not only will this make it less and less likely for them to change their beliefs, but it will also create a large public following which will add to this criticism and turn the issue into a two-sided battle. Whether our interests lie in environmental conservation, profitable energy provision or anything in between, it is in our favour to create a sustainable environment that can supply energy for the foreseeable future.

Every person who acts passionately to prevent future climate change will have had a moment where they first engaged with the issue. Is it possible this moment has yet to occur for some people? It is an easy option to criticise, but like it or not, this is simply the state of our society and criticism will not bring two sides closer together. So if we really do want to move forward, perhaps the answer is to work harder to create non-biased yet emotive and inspirational resources that will engage more people with the issue at hand.

One possible issue in future is that these aggressive campaigns may motivate activists from an anti-government perspective as opposed to a pro-environment one. This can currently be seen amongst street PR teams for some environmental organisations. Whilst engaging with some individual activists, they have given an impression of having a strong anarchistic drive without a real environmental interest. Whilst this has only been a small number of instances, it is certainly a direction we cannot afford to go in.

The effectiveness of the environmentalism lies in public relations and campaigns. However, many current campaigns are treating this as a battle with two opposing sides and if that is how it is described, it is likely that this will actually occur. It seems that we are charging at the opposition of climate sceptics with guns blazing and expecting them to agree with us and immediately join our side. If we are fighting for anything, surely it is to offer the opposition more ways to connect with what we currently believe in.

When you apply this scenario to how environmental groups interact with the major energy companies and political parties, you see the large protests and publicity stunts that create large-scale tension between the two causes. As we rely on these energy companies to provide the nation with power and will ultimately be the people we need to work with to create greener energy provision, is it possible that we are burning the bridges we need to build in order to make progress with climate change?

Following 2015, a year where climate change gained widespread media coverage, we are all now in a position to share our ideas on the topic, whether we are working as an individual or as a campaign group. In considering how we approach these issues, it could be of great benefit to resist the negativity towards climate sceptics. Instead, could 2016 be the year that we put our efforts towards building these bridges and communicating the facts about climate change we know in new ways that might just change the minds of people who currently think differently, whilst avoiding ridiculing them for their contradictory viewpoints?

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Cameron Mackay 7 Articles
Cameron is a Geography student at the University of Glasgow. A keen researcher and communicator on environmental issues, he has joined and organised expeditions to Greenland, the Himalayas and Tanzania with the hope of engaging more people with the challenges facing our planet.

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