Climate change strategies under discussion

A recent survey carried out in 26 countries around the world to see the attitudes and perceptions of citizens states that 76% of Spaniards feel exposed to the consequences of global warming. Climate awareness in Spain turns out to be one of the highest in Europe, but is this supposed level of awareness reflected in our daily lives? We recycle at best, still with doubts about where to throw certain objects away, and we continue to choose the cheapest oil, no matter how many eco-friendly offers we find… “I say that this sustainability thing is like the sandwich revolution, because at the top are the social movements and at the bottom are the power structures, and in the middle is Mrs. Maria who has to fight to survive,” says Enric Pol, professor of Social and Environmental Psychology at the University of Barcelona. This week the biannual congress of the International Association for the Study of Human-Environment Relations which has discussed how to facilitate responsible behaviour by human beings in relation to the ecosystems in which they live; what facilitates or hinders responsible behaviour?

I was talking precisely about motivation German psychologist Elke Weber a few days ago in Spain, when he came to collect the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Humanities and Social Sciences granted by the BBVA Foundation. In 2010 he began his journey in the IPCC (the UN panel of experts on climate change) because our decisions are not rational, they are based more than anything on our feelings or, at most, on the rules. “Many times the perception is that if I change what I do, if I fly less, or install a heat pump, unless everyone else does it, it will not be effective. What if we do it in Europe, but other people in China are not doing it at a national level? I think we have to communicate that individual action is actually effective“, he points out.

Weber also points to the need to build an effective discourse on a complex problem and not fall into permanent alarmism, as sometimes happens. “Saying that this is the last year in which we can really take measures and then nothing happens so that the same thing happens the following year is not good. Perhaps there should be less discussion about what climate change is and why we have it and more about what we can do about it,” Weber says.

Social networks

One of the axes of debate these days in Barcelona has to do with how the processes of construction of reality have consequences on the maintenance of the environment. For Enric Pol, social networks (RRSS) are not helping to generate good awareness. Although it is common to say that young people are more concerned about the environment and climate change, “since 2014, networks have become the main means of socialization, especially for the youngest. Several studies carried out since then affirm that among children aged 8 to 12, interest in caring for the environment has fallen. The values ​​that are transmitted and their origin are not sufficiently studied,” says Pol. This fact, he says, has been amplified by Covid and has to do with the feeling of helplessness in the face of such a complex problem, “They have learned that they cannot do anything. In general, there seems to be a decrease in citizens’ willingness to adopt pro-environmental behaviors, while the climate crisis increases eco-anxiety. This trend is probably related to a growing disenchantment with pro-environmental messages and slogans of administrations and companies. Therefore, the management of communication and its content is essential for the construction of new narratives,” says the professor.

It was in the 19th century that our relationship with the environment began to be studied, first from the construction of cities. As heirs of medieval constructions, at that time the frequent epidemics led to a concern for living conditions and hygiene in buildings and cities. “It all began with the hygiene movement,” says Pol, who goes on to review the evolution of our concern for the environment, leading to the emergence of environmental movements in the 1970s and the first scientific voices that warned about what fossil fuels do to the atmosphere. In 1987, the Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, first used the term sustainable development to refer to the need to rethink economic development policies (curiously, in those years the first regulations in Europe on environmental impacts were developed). The concept underwent a process of substantiation and became popular as sustainability, especially in the private sector. During these years, there are those who consider that the term has been emptied of meaning or that it has even acquired so much ambiguity that it has only generated “greenwashing.” On the contrary, there are those convinced that it has at least served as inspiration so that in the business world not only economic aspects are taken into account but also environmental and social ones. “The idea of ​​sustainability is a green capitalist vision. Something like let’s keep growing, but carefully. It is an economic product that considers that growth is infinite and that everything that exists in the world can be used, as in the 18th century,” says David Berná, professor of Social Anthropology at the Complutense University of Madrid.

A sea of ​​solutions

It is precisely the depletion of natural resources that inspired the Meadow report, “the limits to growth”, which warned in 1972 that the prevailing development model would inevitably lead to a collapse that would occur within a century. The report is the basis for degrowth, a movement that has been much talked about and discussed since the pandemic, which proposes organizing the economy in such a way that fewer resources are used and opting for a lifestyle independent of growth. Other proposals have also emerged, such as the doughnut economy and other terms such as collapse, retardation, etc., which keep politicians and scientists at odds. Does all this contrast help in any way to raise awareness and take action? “There are always struggles that pivot between the academic, political and social worlds. In the last decade, the effects of climate change have become undeniable and representatives have appeared who denounce an imminent collapse and those who defend that we are in a bad way, but there is still time to change. The truth is that we still need a significant social and cultural change,” says Professor Berná. In addition to all this fighting, recent years have been plagued by regulations that have not always been well received. Are we going overboard with so much regulation? “We must legislate, but where it should be. Laws are important, but sometimes they have been made in an unbalanced way. You cannot limit the use of phytosanitary products to farmers and not make policies that avoid, for example, the profit margins of distributors,” says Berná. “There have always been brutal changes that have ended up being normalized. What seemed like great progress in the Roman Empire disappeared in the Middle Ages. What awaits us? “It may not be serious in terms of humanity, but in personal terms it is very serious. We have to reduce costs because what is in danger is our way of life, not life itself,” Pol concludes.

Do conscience and rules go well together?

We asked two questions to different organizations to find out what they think. 1.Do you think that environmental awareness has improved? And 2. Do the regulations of these years have a positive or negative effect?

– WWF: 1. There is no doubt that awareness of environmental issues has increased significantly in the last two decades, and there is ample evidence. For example, this is reflected in all the surveys that show that one of the main concerns of citizens in Spain and Europe is climate change. This is due to the continuous awareness-raising work carried out by civil society, the scientific community and the media, together with the awareness raised by the succession of climatic and catastrophic events. This awareness has even been greater among young people.

2. The reality is that a wide range of environmental measures have been implemented in recent years and that many changes are taking place in a very short period of time. This always creates a certain amount of confusion and mistrust among citizens, especially among sectors that feel more disadvantaged, especially if they are experiencing structural crises. But it is also true that once they begin to be applied, these measures are accepted as normal. The challenge is to continue promoting these changes without leaving anyone behind.

-Asaja: 1. The degree of awareness related to the environment

The environment has changed a lot, and for the better, in the last 20 years. But our political leaders have not always been able to channel this awareness properly. Demagogy or electoralism cannot be used with these issues, because instead of being effective, they may cause greater harm.

2. In the case of the agricultural sector, they have had a resounding negative impact. Excessive regulation, absurd environmental conditions, restrictions of all kinds on productive activity… are causing a clear rejection, as well as harm, among farmers and ranchers who, let us not forget, continue to be the first defenders of the environment.

– UNEF: 1. It has improved less than it should. If you ask people if they are concerned about climate change, the answer will be positive, but then they do not implement it as much in their daily lives. Climate change in general is not integrated into the decision-making process. We see this with auto consumption, for example. What continues to drive is a purely economic motivation. Depending on the energy market, auto consumption will grow or not. We are far from a real environmental culture.

2. The decisions that have been taken are on the right track. However, much progress has been made in decarbonising the electricity sector, but perhaps not so much in the other sectors. It is not enough to try to convince people; when this does not happen, we must go down the regulatory route, although this is not always well understood. In these cases, too, we must take into account the sectors affected by the decisions.

– Signus: 1. Yes, it has improved because legislation has driven this change to occur.

2. They certainly affect awareness, and in a positive way. There are changes in habits that would not have occurred without regulation, and in order to change things, guidelines need to be established.

-Aqualia: 1. Clearly yes. All the information and awareness-raising work carried out by different sectors of civil society and public administrations has produced a positive effect in raising awareness in society, which now understands that caring for the environment and the entire water cycle are key to maintaining a quality of life similar to our current one in the future.

2. We believe that regulation is positively pushing for an increase in awareness. ESG fees are becoming more common in large companies, given the need to respond to the trend, to increasingly demanding European regulations, and to the requirements of investors and financing entities.