Apathy to action

lb-2Leo Barasi

Paul Kaufman, Chair of East London Humanists, introduces Leo Barasi, the speaker who was scheduled for the group’s April event and who would have been explaining why climate change apathy matters, and how it can be beaten

Leo Barasi is a leading thinker, speaker and writer on climate change, politics and public opinion. Broadcast appearances include Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and World Tonight, Radio 5 Live, Channel 4 and Sky. His acclaimed book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism, addresses one of the greatest challenges we face today.

Writing in The Guardian last October, Leo paid tribute to Extinction Rebellion for succeeding in using protest earlier in the year to transform public debate. But he predicted challenges for the next round of mass protest about to take place that month. The novelty of such actions would have worn off and the police would move more decisively.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Leo identified is the public attention span. He points out that the overwhelming majority do now support the aim of zero net emissions. Many believe the argument is won and that blocking the streets serves little purpose. But few pay attention to policy detail or punish politicians who don’t have an effective plan. There’s little incentive for politicians to go beyond simply pledging to tackle the climate crisis with ambitious-sounding targets.

Leo’s book is the first to study climate apathy. One of the questions it poses is: ‘How can we talk about climate change in a way that will provoke action?’ Leo describes how apathy prevents action and shows how it can be beaten with an approach developed for political campaigns, drawing on opinion polls, psychological research and examples of successful campaigns from across the globe.

Much has changed even in the short time since the book was published. The horrific fires in Australia and the horrendous floods in the UK are just two examples that drive home the immediacy of the emergency. We also have a new government with a comfortable majority, which is likely to remain in power until 2024. Although its manifesto committed to action on climate change, the March budget was striking for its failure to put green promises into practice.

Coronavirus prompts many questions about how governments and people deal with a crisis that affects everyone. The virus crisis, dreadful though it is, will subside naturally in due course. But tackling the climate emergency will continue to be critical, and the task of building a majority to back the urgent measures required will be more important than ever.

The meeting may be subject to last-minute cancellation due to the virus crisis, so please check the East London Humanist website for up-to-date details.

Leo will be speaking at Wanstead Library on 27 April from 7.30pm to 9pm (free; visitors welcome; subject to change). For more information, visit wnstd.com/elh