The issues of climate change and action necessary to combat are becoming more pressing. To many, actually taking action is natural and uncontroversial. To others, fed a diet of misleading and biased reporting, climate change is a myth and proposed action represents some huge conspiracy.
Most local authorities are of the former view and want to take action, being generally well advised and working on the basis of evidence rather than anecdote.
Why is the public so sceptical? In a report last year by Oxford University called Poles Apart, researchers analysed international reporting of climate change scepticism across six countries and found climate scepticism is “predominantly an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon” with the UK harbouring a far higher level of scepticism than continental Europe.
The conclusion of the report is that this was mainly due to press treatment of the subject. In general, the UK print media quoted or mentioned significantly more sceptical voices than the other countries, predominantly in the opinion/editorial pages rather than in news.
So the UK has a problem. Climate change is happening but the public needs persuading. The government does not see it as its job to ‘sell’ the message to the populace, but I strongly disagree. It is precisely its job, as all of the public policy, legislation and expenditure provided on climate change is based on a factual and strongly defensible position that it is happening and needs action to prevent serious consequences.
Local government also has a key role. As the bodies on the ground in each area and with exceptionally good links to the community, councils should be shouldering part of the responsibility to press the message that action is essential and to counteract some of the more ridiculous assertions of the sceptics.
It is perhaps because this has not been done sufficiently well to date that the debate over ‘green levies’ on energy bills has been so badly handled.
Local authorities can lead by example, develop good communications strategies to get over the facts and press on with their green strategies, including energy generation.
Over time, this is the only way to win over the public.
Stephen Cirell, independent consultant on low carbon and renewable energy projects
Stephen Cirell is author of A Guide to Solar PV Projects for Local Government and the Public Sector, www.publicsectorenergy.co.uk