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What Would It Take to Make You Do Something About Climate Change?

Things are looking bleak, but how bad does it have to get before we'll actually take action?

by Yasmin Jeffery
14 July 2016, 9:30am

Surprise Glacier, Harriman Fiord, western Prince William Sound, Alaska. (Photo by the US Geological Survey.)

Bad news if you like living on Planet Earth. According to a report from the Committee on Climate Change, things are looking pretty bleak for the UK on the environmental front. If we carry on refusing to recycle or travel everywhere by bike, the worst case scenario could see us hit with 48ºC heat waves, widespread flooding and other hellish symptoms of global warming as early as the 2080s.

If this happens we'll finally be able say, "I told you so" to all the annoying people who refuse to acknowledge that climate change is, you know, a thing. But despite that huge bonus, climate-stoked wars, new diseases, food and water shortages would make it a pointless victory unless we make some drastic changes to the way we live our lives, and soon.

Even though a lot of people say global warming is important to them, we're slowly boiling in our own filth because nobody seems to be doing all that much about it. To find out how screwed we are, I asked a bunch of people on the streets of London what it's actually going to take to get people to care about the state of the planet.

Yann, 20

VICE: Do you care about climate change?
Yann: Yeah, sure. It's just common sense – we live on the earth, so we have to take care of it.

What do you do to help the environment?
I eat less meat, I'm careful not to use too much energy, all those sorts of things.

What would it take for you to make climate change your number one priority?
It's difficult because I don't think protesting really changes anything. I think we just have to change the way we act every day. People really need to start getting out of their comfort zones, because not enough people think about it seriously at the moment. But also, the people who have an influence on the world, like politicians and economists, should think a little less about making money and more about the earth, otherwise nothing will change.

Emily, 42

Is climate change a big deal to you?
Emily: Yeah, I care about the consequences in the sense that if it gets hot and the climate is ruined and my life changes, that would suck. It's not just about saving the planet; it's about saving me (laughs).

What do you do to help the earth?
I do stuff at home, so I use recycling schemes, I try not to waste food, I use supplies that are reasonably environmentally friendly, but it's really difficult! So for example, our veg supplier gets their salad in from Spain and France, and people will say things like, "oh my god, that's miles away!" but they've calculated that the costs of heating a green house to grow tomatoes in England is much, much worse for the environment than just growing stuff in Spain where sunshine is free. The decisions to make are not always that straightforward.

What would have to happen to the UK for climate change to become the most important thing in the world for you?
I don't know! I've already seen the predictive map of where flooding will hit London and worked out that my house isn't going to get flooded, but most of London is! So I'm safe from that. I don't know if anything ever will make it the most important thing, because there are so many things to worry about and it's like, just doing something on your own is a gesture, but it doesn't really make any difference. So, unless it's like a governmental thing that changes stuff, nothing's going to happen, and it might be pretty unpleasant for a while until then. If we were all going to be doing something, we should have been doing it 50 years ago. I don't think the UK can save the world, or ourselves, really.

Joseph, 19

Do you care about climate change?
Joseph: I do care about climate change, because it's something that affects all of us, like, regardless of your skin colour, income or whatever – we're all going to feel the effects of climate change, and there's nothing that separates us from that.

What are you doing at the moment to help stop climate change?
I just try and make my lifestyle a little bit greener, so I always recycle – I get very angry at my family when they don't. We have big arguments about it! I try and eat as little meat as I can, and I'm just very conscious of my own footprint in the world. I try and reduce it.

Scientists are saying the UK is poorly prepared for climate change and that we're going to see some of the real effects of it in the next 50 years or so. What would it take for you to drop everything for climate change?
It would have to be the temperature, because that has an effect on food, and that breaks down just about everything. We all need to wake up and start caring though, and stop being so apathetic, because the way we're moving is going nowhere positive. We all need to make a conscious effort, and actually realise what we're doing to our planet.

Benjamin, 29

Is climate change important to you?
Benjamin: Yeah, I'm an architect so it's instilled in what I do. It's part of both my profession, and also the culture, so it's ingrained within me.

Okay, so climate change is already a massive part of your life. What would have to happen for it to become your main priority?
I would probably challenge that and say it is a priority. Most of my time is spent engaging with the possibility of real change in terms of designing housing for the future.

What do you think British people need to do to make climate change the most important thing?
It's a big shift, and I think the reality of that shift is far greater than most of the powers that be understand. I don't feel like it is anywhere near a priority for most people due to the context that we live in at the moment, economically and politically. Why would anyone care about the environment when their own situations are so dire? It's difficult, but I think the only way is incentivising for the everyday person on the street, unfortunately.

Lydia, 29

Is climate change a big deal to you?
Lydia: Yes! Because it influences our planet, future, the environment and other species.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis to combat climate change?
Climate change is a worry for me because it particularly affects the global self and the most impoverished people, so although I'm not involved in big climate marches or anything like that, I'm involved in general anti-capitalist activism which addresses climate change, I feel.

What would have to happen for you to make climate change your number one priority – over capitalism, even?
Well, obviously crisis! Crisis evolves into change, so it would have to be something pretty dire. Or maybe if there was a really big social movement behind it before we descend into the shit, like if people put together a really cohesive movement and governments actually started to make actual real steps to decreasing emissions – there's no point in trying to do anything on your own until they start doing something about it. Switching your light bulbs out for LED bulbs isn't going to do anything as long as China, India and the UK are pumping out so much shit.

Saoirse, 29

Is climate change important to you?
Saoirse: Yeah it is, because I can feel changes that have occurred due to climate change already in my lifetime, just through seasons changing. You're more in contact with it living in London and cycling around and feeling the pollution, as well. Although we're not faced with extreme weather conditions in the UK, it is happening, but I feel like people maybe aren't so aware of what the rest of the world is already dealing with.

What do you do at the moment to help stop climate change?
Yeah, I mean I support GreenPeace. I cycle, I try not to go on airplanes and I try to live sustainably as much as I possibly can because it makes me feel better about myself, and I feel it helps.

According to new research, the UK could actually be faced by extreme weather as early as the 2080s – what would need to happen for you to really try and make a difference?
It's hard to get frightened about these things when none of it's actually happening yet, but if food were to disappear, that'd probably push me to do something. Climate change goes in and out of fashion, so there needs to be constant pressure. I know there are groups out there that try and maintain that, but they haven't cracked it yet, and if the environment is messed up, nothing else matters.

@YasminAJeffery

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