Most Africans Blame Themselves for Climate Change, Poll Finds


Photo via EHP

This might be the most depressing story I've read all day (and that's saying something when your job description includes reading depressing stories all day): a recent survey found that most Africans 'blame themselves' for climate change, citing the damage they've done to the environment in their homelands. Remember, all of Africa combined is only responsible for some 4% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions--they're among the least responsible for global warming in the world. The BBC World Service trust and the British Council recently released its survey, believed to be the 'most extensive' ever conducted on the topic. From the BBC's report on the study:

Over 1,000 citizens in 10 countries took part in discussions to ascertain what Africans really know and understand about the climate. The report found a near-universal sense that what people call "weather" is changing and affecting lives.

But most of those interviewed did not connect these changes with global causes such as emissions of carbon dioxide. Instead people tend to blame themselves or their peers for local environmental degradation and some see the changes as a form of divine punishment.

Most of the Africans interviewed hadn't heard of climate change, much less understood that it was the result of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. They've just seen firsthand how weather conditions are changing (droughts, for one) for the worse, and have adopted a belief that they must be responsible for the shift.

This is, needless to say, beyond unfortunate. As the BBC notes, it's a "well-worn truism ... that those that did the least to cause climate change are those set to suffer the most from it." The truism is well-worn because it's often simply the case, as we see with more severe droughts across Africa and rising sea levels in several island nations. They shouldn't be holding themselves responsible.

I think it's interesting to note, however, that this intuition held by uneducated Africans--that environmental degradation leads to a changing climate--isn't exactly far off base. It's lacking in scientific specificity, sure, but we know that destructive acts that the Africans may have in mind, like clear cutting swaths of forest, can indeed have an impact on the global climate. They perhaps feel bad about abetting some of the deeds causing climate change (though they're not aware of the direct links)--but they're also needlessly shouldering the blame for all such acts committed on an exponentially more massive scale around the world. Which is terrible.

So it's a little sadly ironic that Africans, who have contributed so little to climate change, feel guilty for 'changing the weather' when many Americans, who in historically spewing the lion's share of world carbon emissions should theoretically feel far more responsible, aren't concerned in the slightest.

More on Global Climate Change
The Economist: Africa's Global Warming Challenge
UN Publishes Satellite Atlas of Africa's Changing Environment
On Climate Change , Africa Votes As One Country And One Continent

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