- Wannes Van Giel

Facts will not save the climate

Valerie Trouet, one of our leading climate scientists, is discouraged by the lack of decisiveness when it comes to climate issues. Sometimes we even seem to be taking steps backwards. "The more facts we provide, the less ambitious the measures in our country are likely to become," she says.

This frustration is shared by many scientists: if the truth is no longer enough to convince people, what will? To push things forward, we have to change our approach. This is how:

  1. We need to scare politicians

  2. We need to give companies a clear framework

  3. We need to help citizens

We need to scare politicians

It’s 1962. The Cold War is raging at full force. The threat of an actual war is estimated at 10%, which isn’t particularly high, but not to be ignored, either. The Americans aren’t about to take any risks, and are making all the necessary investments to win this war... should it ever happen. To this end, they drain about ten trillion (!) dollars from the economy. 

At the time, this colossal amount could've bought you anything: every plane, house, port, car, book, store, factory, diaper or airport. Besides the United States itself. And why was it spent? Right: out of fear of something that might potentially happen.

It's 1990. Astronomer Carl Sagan gives a Keynote Speech on climate change. The threat of this large-scale climate crisis is estimated to be many times greater than the 10% war threat at the time. And yet, governments aren’t taking appropriate action this time. Sagan wonders why. Are we not scared enough?

What is the conclusion? We need to use the facts to frighten politicians (the climate crisis will destroy our economy, trigger immigration waves and make cities uninhabitable), while at the same time pointing out the positive effects of sustainable investments, such as renewable energy or public transport. More jobs, cleaner air, fewer traffic jams, fewer traffic victims … We bet that politicians will be more inclined to invest in the climate once they can peer into the abyss that lies ahead.

We need to give companies a clear framework

In the 1960, the average vacuum cleaner had a capacity of 400 watts. By 2010, this had increased to an average of 1,800 watts. Strange, because only one third of that capacity is effectively converted into suction power. Everything else is heat, which is inevitably lost. In other words: the ever-increasing wattage was nothing more than a selling point that could be counted as consumer fraud. That’s why the EU decided to limit the capacity of vacuum cleaners to 600 watts. This simple measure saves 11 megatons of CO2 every year. And manufacturers are happy too, because they’ve finally been unshackled from a useless rivalry. 

Conclusion? Lobby as if your life depended on it. Push governments to take measures that'll keep companies in line. Not only consumers benefit from these measures — companies themselves often prosper with a strict framework and clear set of rules. And, of course, it makes the world we live in a better and more honest place.

We need to help citizens

One of the most efficient ways to reduce our CO2 emissions is tackling our excessive meat consumption. That's why Eva VZW introduced Thursday Veggie Day, a campaign that helps people to eat less meat. They offer an extensive culinary programme with a wide range of vegetarian recipes, collaborate with caterers and chefs, and try to make vegetarian options the standard. The result? EVA VZW has contributed to a significant drop in meat consumption in Flanders in the last decade, simply by taking people by the hand.

Conclusion? People want to live sustainably, but are often not sure how or where to start. And people who want to change their ways are faced with all kinds of resistance. Change is difficult and can make you feel insecure and uncomfortable at first. In other words, many people have the intention to change, but feel overwhelmed by practical concerns. We shouldn’t criticise these people, but guide them. 

Will facts change the climate? I don’t think so. Every climate initiative is based on irrefutable facts, but to engage people, governments and companies, we need more than the facts alone. Fortunately, I see more and more people take matters in their own hands.

Wondering what you can do to promote sustainable choices? Register now for the course “How to encourage people to make more sustainable choices” and we’ll tell you everything about it.

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