Stay green, protect Earth, save lives
“Keep Britain tidy”, “clunk, click, every trip”, “protect and survive”. Whatever our ages, we can all look back, sometimes with fondness, sometimes incredulity, at one public education campaign or another.
During the last war we were extolled to “dig for victory”, “make do and mend”, and “keep calm and carry on”. In the 1980s it was “AIDS: don’t die of ignorance”, and in noughties the anti-flu drive to “catch it, bin it, kill it”.
Most recently, the appeal to “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” has become ingrained in the national psyche. Love them or hate them, such crusades have been around now for more than a century, and have become the go-to means by which a government seeks to inform and educate the public about a particular risk or safety issue.
All the more strange then that there has been not a whisper in response to the greatest threat to the British public since the emergence of our nation.
I speak, of course, of global heating and the associated breakdown of our once stable climate.
While carbon emissions continue to climb remorselessly, and temperatures follow in step; as countries across the world, including the UK, are battered by ever more violent extreme weather, there has been not a murmur from this government about what the public can do to help address the threat.
Even as they prepare to host the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, at the end of October – arguably the most important meeting in human history – Boris and Co. appear to have next to no interest in engaging with the public in any serious way so as to promote behaviour change in the face of a peril that may yet prove to be existential.
As the recent IPCC report made shockingly clear, there is effectively no chance now of the world dodging the onset of dangerous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown.
Even achieving net zero carbon by 2050 is not going to help.
We all have to face the fact that the world of those who come after us is going to be harsh. This doesn’t mean it is too late to act. Far from it.
We can still stop bad becoming even worse, and there is plenty we can do as individuals, but we need help and guidance from the centre, from government. It beggars belief that none has been forthcoming.
Even should this change, government vacillation during its handling of the Covid crisis doesn’t build much confidence that a Boris-led climate education crusade would fare better.
The first rule of any such campaign is that it must engage, but simply engaging is not enough. Poorly thought out, a campaign can engage but make things worse.
Psychological studies have revealed that the factors determining whether or not a public education campaign is successful are complex and manifold, but one thing that is agreed upon is that there is no mileage in scaring the bejesus out of people, so that – like rabbits caught in a car’s headlights – they do nothing at all.