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Tim Hughes: One of our expert leads, and is on is going to talk to us about why tackling climate change has proved difficult. So over to you, Rebecca.
Rebecca Willis: Thank you. So as Joe and Ed have explained, we've known about climate change for a long time, but we haven't yet managed to act to cut carbon and those are the greenhouse gases by anything near the amount that we need to. In fact, if you look across the globe, emissions is still rising. And in the UK we have cut emissions but we haven't done anywhere near enough. So over the course of this Assembly you'll hear from speakers about how we could tackle climate change, and there are lots of good ideas. But before we do that, I want to talk about what's made it difficult so far. Why we haven't acted enough so far. I'm going to focus on three areas. The first is the way our economy works, the second is something about the politics of climate change, and the third is really looking our own reactions both as individuals and as a society.#
So, let's look at the way the economy works. Our economy is dependent at the moment on fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas. And it's burning these fossil fuels that causes the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. So, we use fossil fuels to make things in factories, to travel around, the petrol in your cars and to heat our homes. Even though we know about the damage that climate change causes, it doesn't cost us any money as individuals to do this damage. So when you switch on the heating in your home, you pay for the gas, but you don't pay for the pollution. And because no one owns the Earth's atmosphere, no one charges you for polluting it. Neither does it cost companies who might be polluting the atmosphere as well. There's no charge to them at the moment. And also we've been using fossil fuels for such a long time that they've shaped the way that we live and work. So, for example, people travel much further now than they did 100 years ago before cars were common, and now people might commute quite a few miles to get to work, people need a car to get to the shops or to get to school. And that's because our towns and cities have become designed for car use. We've created a society that depends on large amounts of energy, and most of that until now we've got from burning fossil fuels. So this can change. We can move away from fossil fuels, but it will mean changes to the way that we live, and work, and travel, and changes to what we eat. And over the next few weeks, you will be hearing about these changes and many of them have got added benefits. So, for example, if we stop driving cars powered by fossil fuels, then this improves air quality and helps people with asthma. But it is a change, and changes can be unsettling and difficult. And there are some people who will actively oppose that change. There's good evidence, for example, that oil companies have opposed action on climate change because they worry that it will affect their business. And similarly, carmakers have opposed regulations that might make cars more efficient.#
So let me turn now to the politics. As we've heard, climate change is a problem that the whole world faces and it's unfolded over many years, and this makes it a challenge for politicians and they've often avoided the problem. It's difficult for them because while climate change happens a global level, a government is only in charge of one country. Only a small percentage of greenhouse gas emissions come from the UK, for example. So, you sometimes hear people saying "why should we cut our emissions if other countries aren't cutting theirs?" The truth is that we need all countries to play their part, and every single country has signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and agreed to act. Each country will respond in different ways, but they have all pledged to meet that target. There's a strong argument that the UK should lead the way because we've benefited from fossil fuels for a very long time and we're a relatively rich country, so we can invest in climate solutions. So another political problem is the time frame. As we've heard, climate change has been happening for decades, but the changes have happened gradually up until now. There's no obvious link between greenhouse gases that are emitted today and their long-term effects on the climate. You can't look out of the window and actually see it happening. So, this makes it difficult for politicians to act because it's hard to see those changes during the lifetime of one parliament, which at the most is five years.#
And then, lastly, I want to look at our own reactions. I want to think about how and as individuals and together as a society we might be thinking about this problem. And climate change can be quite frightening to think about, and hearing about events like the bushfires in Australia or the floods there have been in the UK, it worries people. It is worrying too if you think about the future, if you think about what happens, for example, if climate change begins to affect food supplies and the way that we grow our food, and if climate change affects crops. Psychologists have shown that people have ways of dealing with worries like this, and it's really worth bearing those in mind as we go through our discussions. So, the first thing that people often think is "it can't be true". They might ignore the scientific evidence, and because you can't see climate change directly, you can only see its effects. It is possible to do this. Or you might think, "well it can't be as bad as all that", or, "it'll all work out okay". And again psychologists have shown that people do this because they might not want to think about something that is difficult or that is frightening. And these are really natural reactions and they can be useful ways of coping with difficult things, but they also might prevent us from facing up to something that really needs our attention. Another common reaction is, "well if it's so serious, why isn't everyone else worried?" And that's because people tend to look to those around them, to friends, to family, maybe to the media, or people they respect in public life, and they see how they're reacting. And again, this is a very sensible thing to do, to take your cue from other people. But for climate change, its actually made the situation worse. Sociologists who study society and social change have shown that climate change hasn't been talked about very much, and this makes people less likely to talk about it themselves and less likely to act. It's a bit like if a fire alarm went off in this hotel now, you might initially be worried, but if no one else got up and walked out the door, you would think, "oh it must be okay", and you might stay where you are.#
And lastly, it's common for people to think they will find a way to fix it. "If climate change is so serious, then surely we can invent something that will make it better." And it is true that there have been a lot of advances that offer help to tackle climate change. One example is solar power, which has got cheaper and more efficient and will help us to provide electricity without fossil fuels. But scientists are agreed that there's no one single thing, no one magic bullet that will help. Instead, it will be a combination of lots of different things, some new technologies, some things that aren't new inventions at all, like planting trees, and some changes to the way that we live, like changing what we eat.#
So, to summarise, climate change is a really difficult issue to tackle, because fossil fuels which produce greenhouse gases have been a really important part of our lives up until now and moving away from fossil fuels will mean changes to our lives. Secondly, because politicians find it difficult to cope with a problem which is global and unfolds over a long time. And thirdly because it can be difficult to face up to the facts on climate change both as individuals and as a society because it's often easier to turn away. So as you take part in discussions over the coming days and weeks, there are a few questions that you might want to come back to, that you might want to ask yourselves and each other. One of them is why haven't we managed to act sooner on climate? What's been stopping us until now? And how can we overcome those barriers? You might want to ask what or who is opposing the changes and what do we do about that? What do we do about people who might be opposing changes which could help? And lastly, you might want to ask, how am I reacting to this personally? Am I worried? Can I share those concerns with people? Am I maybe ignoring things that I find difficult to cope with, and who else out there might be ignoring or trying to avoid these difficult questions? And I think that if we bear this in mind as we go through the Assembly will help us to have that really honest and open discussion that we need to have. Thanks.
Tim Hughes: Thank you, Rebecca. So--
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