A recent report in Guardian says that public support for tackling climate change is declining dramatically in Britain. Quoting the British Social Attitudes survey, the paper adds that backing for higher green taxes and charges has waned and scepticism about the seriousness of the threat to the environment has only increased over the years. While it would be wrong to extrapolate these findings and use them for India, I won’t be surprised if a poll on climate change done in the country shows that by and large, the majority of Indians are still greenhorns when it comes to understanding the complex issue.
There are many reasons for such an ostrich-mentality: the most common one being that it’s our right to enjoy things that money can buy (after all, the West has already done their bit of partying); we have the usual roti-kapda-makaan type of issues to handle, everyday problems to deal with and, therefore, climate change can wait for its turn to top our agenda. Though both these attitudes will prove disastrous for the country in the long-run, such nonchalance will continue because the overall communication strategy on climate change has been just sloppy and ineffective, despite the issue being on the radar for a while now.
But let’s not blame the government alone for this lack of interest. Even other groups (civil society, media etc) are equally responsible for this. While the government is forever busy negotiating the tricky turf of international politics on climate change, civil society groups are usually prone to holding protests, discussions and doing intensive ‘studies’, which are again read within a closed ‘favoured’ circuit: journalists, the government and other civil society organisations. They are the ones who read such voluminous studies, report on them, discuss them and then usually forget about them, until a new one comes up, especially before an important climate summit. But in the process everyone forgets to communicate the content to the general public in easy-to-understand terms.
Instead, the people have to contend with an ever-increasing baggage of jargon like LDCs, MRV, ICA, AWG-KP, LULUCF etc. These terms are used by the experts (and pseudo-experts) like secret codes, while people outside the loop simply get confused and eventually lose interest in the debate.
In between, of course, the climate change gravy train (some call it the climate change circus) moves around the world: from Bali to Bonn to Cancun to Copenhagen to Durban …. And every time, the result is usually the same, give or take some incremental improvements. Of course, it is not easy to bring everyone on board and thrash out a deal quickly, but then please don’t blame the public for losing interest.
The truth is that no matter how many protocols and deals we sign, or how much funds are invested in cleaning up the planet, nothing is going to move — at least at the pace the climate leaders want — as long as we don’t have the general public on board. To get them into the fold, the climate crusaders need to tell them in simple language (think about the best advertisements) about the issue, its effect on us and how we can individually help mitigate it. The people themselves need to understand why it is disastrous to go in for a diesel-powered SUV and sensible to go in for solar power. Only then will there be real pressure on governments to act and seal an effective deal.
But alas that kind of a strong and effective communication strategy has never been — and will probably never be — a priority.