Image credit:Earthwatch's program for the HSBC Climate Partnership program
Does the looming climate crisis leave you feeling helpless? Apathetic? Disengaged? Disempowered? Well, you're not alone.
According to a recent global survey of consumer attitudes to climate change, our optimism that we can avert catastrophic climate change is waning worldwide. The Climate Confidence Monitor research, commissioned by the HSBC Climate Partnership is a survey of consumer attitudes, carried out across twelve countries. Its aim is to gauge levels of concern, optimism, confidence in leaders to take action and personal commitment to tackling climate change. Over three consecutive years that the research has been undertaken, levels of optimism have taken a nose dive across all regions, and are lowest of all among wealthier nations such as the USA and Europe.
So why are we so down in the dumps about climate change?
Every day via the media we are bombarded with new and terrifying predictions and evidence of the increasingly severe impacts of climate change. Scare-mongering hHeadlines scream at us: 'Global Meltdown!'; 'Extinction crisis!' 'Drought!' 'Flood!' 'Famine!'
Is it any wonder that society's reaction to such apocalyptic imagery is to bury our heads in the sand and carry on with business as usual? Or that many choose to cling to the few maverick voices among the scientific community who claim that the whole thing is a load of rubbish and that we should carry on consuming with reckless abandon?
We depend on government.
While individuals may feel powerless, the survey results send out a clear message to world leaders that people are looking to governments to set and deliver on ambitious targets to reduce emissions at December's pivotal negotiations in Copenhagen.
Governments can and must show leadership in reaching a global agreement to drastically and rapidly reduce carbon emissions, and to begin in earnest the transition to a more sustainable and equitable world economy.
But as individuals, communities and organizations, we also harbor massive potential to catalyze the change that is required.
So where did it all go wrong?
Many of us have lost our connection with the natural world. A lack of understanding of the processes that sustain life, and of our own impact on the earth can lead to a sense of isolation and separation from our environment. Socially, we are becoming more isolated as consumerism threatens community values and promotes individual gain over the development of robust and supportive societies.
By re-establishing our links - with each other and with nature - we can start to develop our ability to question, challenge and influence our accepted but imperfect models of business and society.
How should we re-establish these connections?
By moving out of our urban comfort zones; by becoming curious about our natural environment; by seeking out experts who can guide us in our learning and demonstrate the value of deeper understanding; by sharing our knowledge and skills with each other; by accepting and respecting one another's values and beliefs and by coming together to take action.
For almost 40 years Earthwatch has brought (extra)ordinary people together with leading scientific researchers to create experiences which allow these connections to be forged. So that's one way to do it. Involving 'citizen scientists' in hands-on collection of vital data about the natural world gives people ownership of, and a sense of pride in, that research. They gain an appreciation of the importance of understanding our world if we are to safeguard it, and knowledge that they are making a very real difference. Every tree measured, every plant identified, every insect counted, represents the contribution that an individual can make to increasing our understanding of our world. Every "one" is a celebration of our collective power.
Earthwatch has taken this model a step further through an experientia learning programme about climate change, developed as part of the HSBC Climate Partnership.
Through this and similar programs with other corporations, thousands of employees worldwide are becoming catalysts for change towards more sustainable business practices throughout their organizations.
As individuals, we can change our own behaviors and we can influence those of our friends, family, colleagues and communities. We can educate ourselves and others and we can make a meaningful contribution to increasing our collective knowledge and understanding of our planet.
Our businesses and organizations can become models for a more sustainable and compassionate society, and we as individuals can influence this transformation from within.
Should we continue to demand leadership from politicians in addressing climate change? Absolutely. Should we as individuals and organizations sit back and wait for them to tell us what to do? Absolutely not. If we underestimate the power that WE have to create the much needed change, we risk missing the narrow window of opportunity that we have to act to avert catastrophic climate change.
It begins with you and me. What will you do today...?
By: Rachel Phillips, Head of Learning, Earthwatch - Bio follows:
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BIO: Rachel leads the development and delivery of Earthwatch's learning strategy: to engage key audiences in transformational learning programs, developing environmental sustainability leadership and inspiring behavioral change at an individual and organizational level. Prior to this, she designed the HSBC Climate Partnership Climate Champion Program, an experiential learning program which delivers climate change education and creates internal sustainability change agents with HSBC. Rachel started her career in sales and marketing, working in a variety of national and international roles for Unilever & PepsiCo. In 2003, she took a career break and spent 6 months travelling around S-E Asia, China and India on the back of a truck!