Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Climate change: The inconvenient truth

We are facing the next major extinction since the dinosaurs. Scientists have forewarned that a mere 2- degree Celsius rise in temperature on Earth could predict perilous implications such as drought, famine and human conflict. Countries will be underwater due to sea levels rising, and such high levels of drought means an inability to feed populations, generating mass migration or invasion of other countries. Not only are we rapidly approaching this 2- degree danger zone, but we will easily exceed it. A further 7- degree Celsius raise in temperature has the potential to trigger a similar effect which turned Venus into a 460- degree Celsius inhabitable environment. With such alarming warnings from scientists and researchers, it is our responsibility to protect our planet.

Figure 1. Cowspiracy filmmakers
 Kip Anderson (right) and
Keegan Kuhn (left)
Environmental companies and activists have programmed society to believe the overuse of fossil fuels is the catalyst for climate change. The oil and gas industry is plastered over news and social media sites to be the most damaging environmental practise by humanity. Yet a ground- breaking independent documentary film, Cowspiracy, has exposed the sustainability secrets many environmental agencies have actively avoided. The filmmakers, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, uncovered an arguably intentional refusal to address the principle yet unforeseen cause of global warming: animal agriculture.

Raising livestock produces more dangerous emissions than the entire transportation sector. Consequently, more greenhouse gases are produced from animal agriculture than from the exhausts of all cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes combined. On top of this, methane produced from cattle is 86x more destructive than carbon dioxide. Yet websites of the largest environmental agencies in America have almost no information on the detrimental effects of animal agriculture. The gateway belief model can be greatly applied to such scientific communication. When faced with uncertainty individuals tend to turn to experts for guidance, such as environmental agencies. This guidance is viewed as a consensus, and thus regarded as correct. Therefore, if fossil fuels are noted as the most damaging cause of climate change; the public will believe this as factual. The model also explains that if organisations portrayed animal agriculture as the leading issue, individual perceptions will follow, leading to a greater impact to reduce global warming. In summary, if environmental organisations portrayed animal agriculture as the primary cause of climate change, the public will comply to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases, deforestation and global warming. Agencies simply need to address the impact of animal agriculture. So why haven't they?

Figure 2. The gateway belief model demonstrating the pathway for acceptance of climate change.

The simple suggestion would be to promote veganism and condense meat production. Yet recent statistics show that only 2% of the UK population and 0.5% of the USA population are vegans. To promote the reduction of meat consumption would impact over 95% of the population, and as such seems an unlikely request from environmental charities. These organisations are businesses, who need to ensure a reliable source of funding. Greenpeace is the largest environmental agency with an estimated $360 million global empire. For this reason, the public is advised to occasionally change their daily routine, for example through recycling and driving less, so they are lead to believe they are helping the environment. Whilst to some extent this is true, they are ignoring the primary cause of global warming. Agencies know that turning vegetarian or vegan is less achievable. Therefore, to sustain donations and interest from the public, animal agriculture is discounted and climate change is attributed to less demanding tasks, such as saving water and recycling plastic.

Figure 3. The proportional representation of gallons of water
used for hydraulic fracking (left) compared to animal
agriculture (right) per year in America

Whilst climate change is still overlooked by many, our rapidly overcrowded planet must remain sustainable. Leaving the shower on constantly for two months is the equivalent to making one hamburger. Cowspiracy was able to uncover the controversial truth about the damaging effects of animal agriculture, leading to the film backing and funding being dropped. In the last 20 years in Brazil, where deforestation has resulted in an acre of land being cut down every six seconds, 2,100 activists have been killed trying to unravel these sustainability secrets. Animal agriculture is the primary cause of climate change, and whilst environmental agencies have concealed this factor to keep public interest, it must be addressed in order to avert the effects of global warming.

                    Van der Linden, S. L., Leiserowitz, A. A., Feinberg, G. D., & Maibach, E. W. (2015). The scientific consensus on climate change as a gateway belief: experimental evidence. Plos One, 10(2), e0118489.

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