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Most British People Are ‘Climate Ignorers’ and ‘Stealth Deniers,’ Study Finds

By Emily Atkin on December 17, 2013 at 4:37 pm

"Most British People Are ‘Climate Ignorers’ and ‘Stealth Deniers,’ Study Finds"

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Most people in Britain acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change but are “unmoved” to do anything about it, according to a survey and report released by Britain’s Royal Society of Arts (RSA) on Tuesday.

The report, entitled “A New Agenda on Climate Change: Facing up to Stealth Denial and Winding down on Fossil Fuels,” indicated that while less than 20 percent of the approximately 2,000 people surveyed are “unconvinced” that climate change is happening, nearly 64 percent of people say they acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic climate change yet do not feel a personal responsibility to address it.

The findings have the report’s authors convinced that the best way to combat climate change is not to focus on the minority of people who deny the reality of human-caused climate change despite a 97 percent consensus among climate scientists, but rather to hone in on those who wrongfully believe that there is nothing they can do to change it.

“Those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change are not at all helpful, but at least they are consistent,” Jonathan Rowson, one of the authors of the report, wrote on the organization’s blog on Tuesday. “One corollary of facing up to stealth denial is that we should turn more of our attention instead to mobilizing those who, like the author of this report, fully accept the moral imperative to act, but continue to live as though it were not there.”

Of that 64 percent — which the report calls “stealth deniers” — 47 percent were “emotional” deniers, meaning they don’t feel personally uneasy about climate change. Twenty-six percent of those people were “personal” deniers who believe their own daily actions are not part of the problem — and 65 percent are “practical” deniers, believing that there is literally “nothing I can do personally that will have any significant effect on limiting climate change.” Only a small group of the total amount of people surveyed, 14.5 percent, said they lived in a way that they felt was consistent with their understanding of the problem.

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CREDIT: The Royal Society of Arts

The findings prompted the RSA, a multi-disciplinary institution dating back to the 1700s, to develop a proposed 8-part agenda to fight so-called stealth denial and the need to focus on keeping fossil fuels in the ground. One of those parts, ironically, is the need to develop a media communication strategy which no longer focuses on the debate over whether climate change exists. Instead, communications of climate change should solely focus on competing ideas and solutions to fight it.

“At present, public debates focus around the question: do you believe in climate change? Instead we want them to ask: ‘What do you think we should do about climate change?’” the report said. While the authors also argue for the implementation of a national emissions measurement, increased investment in renewable technologies, and a revenue-neutral carbon tax, they also say that none of that can occur unless there is increased civil communication. That is, getting people to talk to each other about climate change for more than five minutes at a time.

“Stealth denial is partly caused by not managing to experience feelings commensurate with the climate challenge and also by the absence of social indicators that climate change is a socially acceptable thing to talk about in polite company,” the report said. “Those who do invest the time to talk about climate change can easily feel overwhelmed by the challenge, but by making responsibility proportionate, and showing that progress is possible, it helps people feel like part of the solution rather than part of the problem, creating hope, building political will, and leading to tangible reductions in personal carbon footprints.”

The report in full can be found here.

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