When the smog came to my city it looked like a cloud had drifted down from the sky. It was not, however, made out of water vapour, but by pollution carried over by the wind with sand from the Sahara. While walking to work in the morning, I saw two joggers jogging past. Perhaps they thought the smog was early morning mist and stuck to their routine, but a little way in the distance they stopped, no longer able to run in the thick air. I walked past the traffic-jam of cars with people on their morning commute into work. Usually you can't see the fumes expelled from the exhausts, but today the fumes joined the thick air and looked like your breath on a cold winter's day. It was Beijing in South Yorkshire.
The smog came at around the same time as the April meeting of the IPCC. Listening to the news reports, it seemed that climate change was now unavoidable and now the focus was on mitigating the effects of climate change, rather than preventing it from happening, for example, by building more flood defences. "Let's have climate change," said many letters pages in the popular media, "if it will improve the awful UK weather."
It is arguable that however accurate, the IPCC's projections of doom and gloom are not enough to motivate the UK public. This is not altogether surprising. People want to be inspired rather than cajoled, and the Climate Change debate in itself does not point to any clear action: do we build more wind turbines? Insulate more homes? Use the car less? Eat less meat? Climate Change does not provide the answers, and the UK government's approach seems to jettison any policy at the first suggestion of unpopularity.
The problem is worsened as the idea of Climate Change arguably does not enjoy a wide acceptance amongst the general public. This has been caused not only by a campaign of doubt by those who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo, but also by the way the Climate Change debate has been covered by usually respected media, such as the BBC. Here, the media misguidedly creates a Climate Change debate, where in reality none exist.
Dearing examined this tendency back in 1995, and found that as journalists are trained to cover both sides of the debate, they give a voice to "maverick" scientists who have a minority belief in scientific theories. Even though these journalists may doubt the credibility of these "maverick" sources, the message doesn't get through to the public, with the effect that the mavericks are "lent
credibility in mass media stories" (Dearing, Newspaper coverage of maverick science: creating controversy through balancing).
If the Climate Change debate is uninspiring and tarnished in the media, then what can we do? Well, for one we could stop talking about Climate Change. Energy that is wasted on the generated controversy around Climate Change could be better spent by focusing on the local environmental issues. No one can say that they breathed deeply in the smog. No one can overlook the rubbish at the local duck pond. No one can calculate that green investment (not only wind and solar, but the much ignored biomass) doesn't create jobs. No one can say that they lost money through better insulation.
In order to make people care about the environment and Climate Change, it is necessary to inspire at a grass-roots level. Perhaps one day the grand Climate Change debate will be won, but it will be a hollow victory if met with indifference. Environmentalists therefore need to start capitalising on what people feel today, rather than focusing on the measurements taken over decades from a mountain top in Hawaii.