News: Nov 13, 2012
How come so many people don’t understand the climate change issue? How come so many people don’t trust what the scientists say? And how come it’s so hard to change people’s behaviour?
Katherine Richardson, professor of biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen, and Gudmund Hernes, professor of economics at the Norwegian School of Economics, are trying to find the answers to these questions.
‘I don’t believe in the greenhouse effect!’
‘That’s very nice. How do you feel about gravity?’
Katherine Richardson started her Global Week lecture by telling the audience that people on the street often come up to her to discuss the greenhouse effect and climate change. Most of the time, they don't agree with her and think that the scientists are exaggerating the whole thing. And that’s when she responds ‘How do you feel about gravity?’
According to Richardson, society has always been a bit reluctant to scientists and what they have to say. She mentioned Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin as good examples of this. But it is in fact the scientist’s job to generate knowledge that challenges what people are normally thinking.
‘The most important question right now is whether humans are part of nature or if we stand above it,’ according to Richardson.
Both Richardson and Hernes talked about a climatic breaking point that occurred after World War II. Richardson talked about the rise of modern society and how it has affected for example greenhouse gas emissions, while Hernes talked about how events such as the bomb over Hiroshima, the Chernobyl catastrophe and Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring have influenced people’s view of how we are affecting the world around us.
Richardson believes that we must move away from being hunters and gatherers and instead become stewards of our planet. However, this process is going to take many generations.
‘We seem to think that our planet’s biomass is a limitless resource. However, we must start to acknowledge that it is in fact limited. Sure, the technological progress is helping us utilise the biomass better, but it isn’t enough,’ says Richardson.
Richardson feels that the link between the climate issue and over-utilisation of resources is rather well-documented. However, even if the climate scientists are good at conveying their scientific results, people must start believing in the findings in order to change their behaviour.
But why is it so hard to change our ways? This is especially puzzling since by now we have the necessary knowledge and since climate-related catastrophes keep increasing around us, right in front of our very eyes. Hernes believes that we really don’t want to change our behaviour, since this would make us lose our identity and also lose our friends. Many of our friends still believe that our planet offers limitless resources, despite the obvious fact that it is not true. And if we change our behaviour, or argue against our friends, we stand at risk of losing them. And no-one wants to lose a friend.
‘What many people need is a damascene conversion, a major change in how they believe that the world around them really works,’ says Hernes. ‘It’s about time we realise that we cannot change nature, but that we can change ourselves.’
Watch Katherine Richardson's lecture here: