One can analyse the challenges of doing big changes to a society on many different levels, but the way I see it, there are two main reasons for why it’s so difficult:
A) We have a political system where everything hinges on making it through the next election
and B) Most people are ignorant.
Let me clarify, beginning with reason A. Our society (at least “well-functioning” societies and most of the developed world, generally speaking) are made up by a population which, ideally, knows what is best for themselves and the society as a whole, and then elects people to govern this society on their behalf (cause, let’s face it, most people are not interested in doing it themselves), namely the politicians. Now, one can hope that most politicians are sensible, idealistic and hard working creatures that just want to govern their nation in a best possible manner. That would, however, often not be the case. You see, politicians does not really have to concern themselves with making right and wise choices as long as they can persuade the voters to think that they do. In very many cases, perhaps in most cases, it is actually quite clear that there is a dicothomy between what is wise to do for the sake of a sustainable future, and what has to be done in order to get reelected. And, of course, having a job is very central in the life of the politicians. Therefore, often what is wise to do, keeps getting ignored.
This is the main challenge in order to adressing climate change issues. We all know that there is a need for big changes in our consumption and production patterns. The only way to do these changes is to change our politics. Therefore, the politicians need to be responsible for making the changes happen. But, because they fear the opinion of the people, they won’t do these changes even though they may know deep down that that’s the only sane way to go.
Now, why should the people object to policy changes to conquer climate change? This brings me to reason B: Most people are ignorant. In a perfect world, people would know what was the best thing for them to do. Of course, most people don’t, something politicians and governments have known for decades and centuries. Putting it very bluntly, I think the majority of the population, at least concerning climate change issues, are either unknowing about what is actually going on, too concerned about themselves to give a damn, or they know what’s going on and are feeling so powerless that they choose not to care.
Which brings me to my key point: People must be enlightened. They must get involved and become knowledgeable in order to know what is needed of us to tackle climate change. We have to get out information about what climate change is, how we can’t go on behaving the way we do, and what has to change in order to get things right. We also have to stop making these assumtions that adressing climate changes entails drastical sacrifications that lead to a terrible and dreaded life and society, or that it means giving up all individual freedom. That is not the case. Adressing climate change can give us a whole new set of possibilites, and a tool kit to govern and take care of a new and changing world.
To inform and educate is the only way we can get a real momentum and a movement embedded in the people, which in turn is the only way to get the right people elected to take the tough political decisions; the decisions that scientiscs and civil society tells us is needed. There is no way we can sit around and wait for the politicians to take initiative or figure this out on their own. They are obviously too busy worrying about what people might think, to do anything drastical or brave or anything too different with business as usual.
Conclusion: We need to do this both top-down and bottom-up, at the same time. The people must know what to demand, and demand it, and the politicians must listen to the demands and follow it through with the right politics. At the same time politicians must tailor to make mass information happen in order to get people involved. And not least, everyone must start to think about the welfare of their future and the world.
This is the reason why I think the work that organizations like Spire is doing is so important: We try to make the world a better place; not just by trying to influence politically, and not just by trying to get information out to the public, but by doing both. That it the only way to go at this point, I think, and a strong civil society has to be a starting point for such an informational revolution to happen.
Now: How to make the big masses listen? Still haven’t quite figured that out yet.