In order to address global issues like climate change, public awareness is essential. Climate change awareness is often considered essential to public support for mitigation and adaptation policies. Individuals who are more exposed and aware of hazards may begin to normalise risks in order to cope psychologically with them. Climate change is a serious problem, and its consequences are evident (i.e. the polar ice caps are melting, posing a threat to animals, increased risk of floods and more). Climate change has been under-estimated since many people automatically link it to a global issue and not something that can affect them or may even go as far as to believe it does not exist.
When it comes to climate change, public awareness lags behind scientific progress. This encourages denial and misinformation to spread, and while governmental planning and policies are a key component of this transition, they are not sufficient in themselves. Community awareness and information about the options available to confront the problem is essential, as is community empowerment to act. The key to a successful climate change plan is effective public engagement. As a result of increasing scientific evidence and greater media coverage, public concern, awareness and understanding of climate change has increased, after being at low levels in the early 1980s when the issue first became widely acknowledged (Boykoff and Yulsman, 2013). By increasing public awareness and knowledge about climate change, citizens can become more engaged in decision-making, which in turn can impact the community's awareness and knowledge. As a result of public awareness, education, and participation, public behaviour and actions regarding climate change can be transformed.
Global warming will be less severe if we reduce the world's carbon footprint. Some people may believe that environmental issues are too distant for the average person to care about. However, individual lifestyle choices can have an impact on the environment as well. Issues adjacent to climate change such as air pollution and waterway contamination can be overcome by raising awareness of environmental problems. Through simple actions, the populace can benefit the environment and combat these issues. These are done in a variety of ways such the Climate Crisis Film Festival (CCFF) which is the first climate action film festival in the UK. It is dedicated to helping youth-led programs and grassroots solutions as well as using creative ways to spread awareness on the issues of climate change around the world.
Many large-scale climate change awareness raising campaigns include mitigation, energy efficiency, and sustainability strategies rather than adaptation strategies. The European Commission's You Control Climate Change (2006) campaign, for example, informs people about climate change, initiates pro-active dialogues, and seeks to mobilise (small) behavioural changes without impacting the daily lives of individuals by giving them a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility. To address the scepticism of the targeted group, the Commission has been trying to reduce their scepticism and convince them that individual actions can help to reduce climate change. To accomplish this goal, the EU has heavily invested in advertising, a website, exhibitions, media relations, events, and school programmes at both the national and European levels.
Benefits of raising awareness
Awareness increases enthusiasm and support, promotes self-mobilisation and action. The role of awareness raising in climate change adaptation is therefore crucial to managing the impacts of climate change, enhancing adaptive capacity, and reducing overall vulnerabilities. Any climate change campaign's aim is to achieve long-term behavioural changes that lead to positive impacts and such are created via the participation of the public. Awareness raises alertness which leads to action. Once the individual has understood the gist of the issue, they can then evaluate what changes to their normal routine would be environmentally friendly. That individual understands that some actions can have negative consequences and can set about reducing their carbon footprint. This will promote climate literacy among young people, helping them change their attitudes and behaviour, and helps them adapt to the impacts of global warming.
What stops actions being taken by an individual?
Several studies have shown that risk perception influences public support and engagement in climate change initiatives (e.g., Hagen et al., 2016). However, not many changes have occurred even with the different awareness approaches used. It is possible that higher awareness of climate change relates to lower risk perceptions due to the normalisation of risk (Luís, et al. 2018). This is the phenomenon where people no longer view risks as threats. Risky/dangerous practises or conditions become acceptable over time as a result of gradual adaptation.
This translates to people's understanding of climate change. Norgaard (2011) explains how people who know about climate change fail to act on that knowledge due to a lack of integration of psychological, political, or moral implications into everyday life and social action (implicatory denial), illustrating a rift between the abstract concept of climate change and its relevance in everyday life. She also discussed how people might know about climate change, but misinterpret it, for example thinking it is natural or won't be as bad as it appears (interpretative denial).
Climate change has many distant effects for most people. The construal level theory suggests that people conceptualise things that are psychologically distant from them (in time, space, or social distance) more abstractly than things that are psychologically close (Trope and Liberman, 2010). Often, weather disasters that are probably linked to climate change (such as wildfires or extreme storms) happen far away from where most people live. Consequently, most people do not have to grapple with the specifics of climate change, but rather can view it as an abstract concept. People simply do not act as forcefully in response to abstract concepts (Trope and Liberman, 2010). Price is another barrier. Many people cannot afford greener options due to financial constraints. A lot of lifestyle changes are expensive such as purchasing an electric car and that price has stopped people switching from their cars to electric (BBC, 2021).
Despite the obstacles, there are many ways to help with this issue. Something as simply posting about climate change or just using the internet to understand the issue is enough. Drastic changes aren’t needed to make an impact. Small steps are enough as everyone has their own barriers to helping. Raising awareness is great way to help and a person can go creatively about this. Making a short video or creating art and posting it online can reach millions of people and thus information can slowly begin to be spread. Having access to that information is a tool to start a positive change.
BBC (2021) Why are people not doing more about climate change?. BBC News. [online] 29 Mar. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-56500739 [Accessed 1 Feb. 2022].
Boykoff, M.T. and Yulsman, T., 2013. Political economy, media, and climate change: sinews of modern life. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 4(5), pp.359-371.
Hagen, B., Middel, A. and Pijawka, D., 2016. European climate change perceptions: Public support for mitigation and adaptation policies. Environmental Policy and Governance, 26(3), pp.170-183.
Lorenzoni, I., Nicholson-Cole, S. and Whitmarsh, L., 2007. Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications. Global environmental change, 17(3-4), pp.445-459.
Luís, S., Vauclair, C.M. and Lima, M.L., 2018. Raising awareness of climate change causes? Cross-national evidence for the normalization of societal risk perception of climate change. Environmental Science & Policy, 80, pp.74-81.
Norgaard, K.M., 2011. Living in denial: Climate change, emotions, and everyday life. mit Press.#
Trope, Y. and Liberman, N., 2010. Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychological review, 117(2), p.440.