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Why are people not taking action against climate change? - OneSharedEarth
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What are the different reasons that make people, organisations & governments not take action against climate change?
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There can be many different reasons why people are not taking action against climate change.


  • 40% of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change

Many people, especially in developing countries, have observed changes in their local weather and are concerned but lack the concept of climate change to help them make sense of the changes and take action.


Leiserowitz A, “Nearly 2 Billion Adults Have Never Heard of Climate Change” (Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 2015)


  • Many believe climate change is not happening

Many people believe that climate change is not happening, or are not sure it is happening, or think it is caused by natural changes in the environment, or that it won’t harm people for many decades, if at all.


Leiserowitz A, Maibach E and Light A, “Global Warming’s Six Americas” (Center for American Progress, 2009)


  • Climate change education is absent in most countries


Valéry Laramée de Tannenberg, “France Overlooks Climate in School Curricula” (, December 18, 2018)


  • Extreme effects of climate change are distant from most people

Weather disasters, like wildfires or extreme storms, that may reflect climate change tend to happen far away from where most people live. As a result, most people do not view it as a personal or urgent threat.


Markman A, “Why People Aren’t Motivated to Address Climate Change” (Harvard Business Review, 2018)


  • People benefit from the shorter term benefits of ignoring climate change

By ignoring the influence of their carbon footprint on the world, individuals do not have to make changes in the cars they drive, the products they buy, or the homes they live in. Companies can keep manufacturing cheaper if they don’t have to develop new processes to limit carbon emissions. Governments can save money today by relying on methods for generating power that involve combustion rather than developing and improving sources of green energy, even those that are more cost-effective in the long run.


Markman A, “Why People Aren’t Motivated to Address Climate Change” (Harvard Business Review, 2018)


  • Many people profit from industries leading to climate change

For example, people profiting from investments in fossil fuel industries will act in favour of preserving their financial stability. 


Gregoire C, “Why Some People Take Action On Climate Change -- And Others Don’t” (, 2016)


  • Many think consumer action is pointless

Any action against climate change not only reduces an individual's carbon footprint, it also sends a positive message and creates a ripple effect for others to change their behaviour. However, many think it will not make a difference and even fewer try to influence public policies.


Rowlatt J, “Climate Change Action: We Can’t All Be Greta, but Your Choices Have a Ripple Effect” BBC News (2019)

Doherty KL and Webler TN, “Social Norms and Efficacy Beliefs Drive the Alarmed Segment’s Public-Sphere Climate Actions” (2016) 6 Nature Climate Change 879


  • Many want action against climate change, but not at their expense

Only a fraction would be willing to pay an extra $100 per year to make the government to take aggressive action to combat climate change.


Volcovici V, “Americans Demand Climate Action (as Long as It Doesn’t Cost Much) - Poll” (Reuters, 2019)


  • People may be taking action, but not a very impactful one

Popular advice for climate action and climate education often falls into the lower impact actions. So people who want to take action don't end up focusing on the highest impact actions. For actions, see “What Are the Key Actions against Climate Change?” (OneSharedEarth, 2020) and “What Are Most Effective Ways an Individual Can Reduce Carbon Footprint?” (OneSharedEarth, 2018).


Wynes S and Nicholas KA, “The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions” (2017) 12 Environmental Research Letters 074024


  • Consumers don’t know which companies to reward or punish

For example, no specific environment labelling on food makes it difficult for consumers to understand what foods to buy for action against climate change.


Leiserowitz A, Maibach E and Light A, “Global Warming’s Six Americas” (Center for American Progress, 2009)


  • Developing countries are blamed by developed countries, making it "their" problem

The richest countries of the world are home to half of the world population, and emit 86% of CO2 emissions. Although the higher emission and consumption levels in developed regions demands steeper emissions cuts, these regions choose to blame developing countries for their emissions.


Ritchie H and Roser M, “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions” (Our World in Data, 2017)


  • Developed countries are blamed by developing countries, making it "their" problem

The developing countries are rapidly catching up in their use of energy and resources as witnessed by China, India and Brazil. The environmental impact due to the growth of middle classes in developing countries is also underplayed. However, these regions choose to blame rich countries for causing climate change.


Kopnina H and Washington H, “Discussing Why Population Growth Is Still Ignored or Denied” (2016) 14 Chinese Journal of Population Resources and Environment 133


  • Some issues are not raised due to their sensitive nature, so awareness is low

For example, various studies have summarised a need to stabilise the human population. However this issue is rarely raised by policy makers, international organisations or mainstream media. In some countries population growth is encouraged as politicians and economists assume that larger population stimulates economic growth both in terms of markets and consumers. The issue of population growth is relevant in both rich and poor countries. People choosing to have smaller families in the richest parts of the world will have the greatest and most immediate positive effect, but environmental impact of the increasing population in poor countries can not be underplayed either.


Ripple WJ and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries, “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” (2017) 67 BioScience 1026


  • Government subsidies discourage consumers from taking action

By reducing the price of a natural resource below its value, subsidies discourage consumers from taking action to be more sustainable.

Some examples are:

The McKinsey Global Institute estimated that governments were subsidising the consumption of resources (water, palm oil, timber, soy, beef, etc.) by up to $1.1 trillion per year in 2011.

EU trade and agricultural policies like Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) paid €28.5-32.6 billion of public money to livestock farms and farms producing fodder for livestock.


Mcfarland W, Whitley S and Kissinger G, “Subsidies to Key Commodities Driving Forest Loss Implications for Private Climate Finance Working Paper” (2015)

Feeding the Problem: The Dangerous Intensification of Animal Farming in Europe” (Greenpeace European Unit, 2019)


  • Politicians may have vested interests so block policies that favour climate action

For example, 25 of the 45 politicians on the European parliament’s influential agriculture committee in 2018 were either farmers, former farmers, Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payment recipients in another capacity, current or former partners in agricultural businesses, or have spouses who own farms. They have previously blocked a commission proposal to put a maximum cap on farm subsidies.


Neslen A, “Revealed: Majority of Politicians on Key EU Farming Panel Have Industry Links” (The Guardian, 2018)

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