Shaking the carbon habit

What will it take to end our addiction to fossil fuels?

Her majesty was most certainly not amused. Before COP26 was even underway, the Queen dubbed leaders of some of the world’s most polluting nations, including Russia’s President Putin and President Xi Jinping of China – by far the biggest producer of greenhouse gases on the planet – “irritating” for failing to commit to even being there. And despite further doomsday warnings, some countries are once more accused of putting national interests before the survival of the planet. The major producers and exporters of fossil fuels remain reluctant to give up quickly the vast financial benefits that oil, coal and natural gas bring to their nations’ coffers. And while many leaders encourage increased measures to reduce global warming and cut pollution, the mixed messages and actions of governments, including the UK’s, causes confusion and gives scant encouragement to the public. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, at a Downing Street press conference with schoolchildren before the summit, said that recycling plastic was a “red herring” and that it “didn’t work”. He also cast major doubts on whether the global gathering of leaders would ultimately achieve its stated aims, saying it was “touch and go”.

Our readers appear to share the pessimistic view of the Prime Minister, with only a combined 18% of those surveyed thinking it likely that COP26 will succeed in mitigating the worst effects of climate change, and of that total, a mere 1% thought it “very likely”. Far more, a combined 68% believe that summit success in averting climate chaos is either “not very likely”, 48%, or “not likely at all”, 20%. However, only 5% admitted to knowing “a great deal” about COP26 and just 21% said they knew “a fair amount”. Those numbers increased in Scotland where more residents of the summit’s host nation appeared to have done their COP26 homework. Most of us say we are worried about climate change and the majority reckon the main responsibility for action is down to governments and major corporations. But when we learn that our government has allowed water companies to discharge huge quantities of raw sewage into our coastal waters and rivers more than 400,000 times in the past year alone, the public is surely entitled to ask – how can that possibly be contributing to cutting pollution? Our surveys indicate that a strong majority, 65%, believe it is still possible for us to avert the worst effects of climate change, but only 7% say that current changes are sufficient. A further 5% think there is no need to take action and 15% reckon it’s already too late. If that 15% are right, then who knows how many more ultimately pointless COP summits there will be?

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