Thursday 18 January 2024

We need to appeal to people’s sense of morality to achieve net zero, says expert

We need to appeal to people’s sense of morality to achieve net zero, says expert

Climate change is a moral movement.

This is what Michael Pollitt, Professor of Business Economics at the University of Cambridge, told us in this week’s Net Hero Podcast.

He said: ‘I think if you’re asking people to make quite radical changes to their lifestyle or to commit quite significant percentages of their income to cleaning up the environment, you have to appeal to people’s sense of morality at some level, don’t you?

‘And you have to realise that there are then moral trade-offs because people will say, well I want to educate my children or I want better healthcare or I want to deal with poverty.

‘And we need to have a genuine moral debate about what we should be doing with our money and what society’s priorities should be.’

He added: ‘We could think about climate change as being a moral movement. And there can only be a certain number of moral movements at once that get the sort of energy that's required to achieve something big.

‘But we have had moral movements in the past which have been incredibly significant and have brought about peaceful revolution. So some that come to mind are the civil rights movement in the US, the Jubilee 2000 campaign in the late 1990s to reduce the debt of heavily indebted countries, with the Berlin Wall coming down in East Germany, the peaceful transition that we saw in South Africa from apartheid.

‘All these had religious movements behind them, as well as secular movements.’

Michael said that governments and scientists need to understand the priorities of the general population.

‘Plenty of religious people might emphasise the importance of sorting your relationship out with god now or of helping your neighbour right now.

‘Maybe [climate change] doesn't seem as salient to somebody who is religious as it might to a scientist who isn't facing the same day to day moral challenges that those who are poor are facing, for instance.

‘So I think we need an intelligent discussion about priorities.

‘And scientists need to broaden their approach to recognise that [climate change] isn't the only problem that the planet actually has. And it may not even be the most salient one.’

Michael told us that climate advocates need to rethink the language they use to campaign for their cause.

‘84% of people in the world are religious in some sense and very few of them have got the apocalypse on their mind. So it's important to realise that's always been quite a fringe part of religion, hasn't it? So it's sort of strange that scientists would adopt that sort of language.

‘And of course, one of the traps that science has got itself into is sort of bringing forward the date of the apocalypse.

‘It was 20 years away and now its next Thursday. You can’t credibly keep doing that. And the more apocalyptic campaigns have had to be withdrawn because you end up getting a negative reaction.

‘And there’s only a certain amount of just pointing out the problem that people can take. You actually need to move onto proposing solutions.

‘We need not only a moral movement but a moral movement that has a very clear, positive agenda of what it actually wants to see happen.’

Watch the full episode below and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

Written by

Garima Satija

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