Tackling Complacency in the Face of the Climate Crisis By James Cadman

We increasingly see more stories about climate change and its impacts. At the time of writing, Storms Henk, Isha and Jocelyn have all been in the news, the floods they cause in the UK, damage to property and the knock-on effects on our transport and power infrastructures.

These events can lead to what many of us are aware of – climate anxiety – that worry, reasonable enough, that we are facing an existential crisis and the associated stress of knowing what to do about it. This in and of itself is a growing issue, especially with younger generations, of feeling that we have no agency, no control. But there is an associated issue, even less well known, and that is climate fatigue.

Having trained literally thousands of people in the last couple of years on climate change and what can be done about it, two things have become apparent: there is growing and improving understanding of the issues (which is clearly progress), but there is also an increasing risk of climate fatigue. The latter can often be ascribed to anecdotal comments such as “we’ve heard all this before”, “what can we do about it – we’re just a small player”, “we’ve tried things in the past, but they’ve failed”, or “we just do what our client tells us to do…”.

There are many great technologies in existence already, and more to come online through the many innovations out there. Futurebuild is all about showcasing those innovations – new materials, different ownership models, and more efficient ways of working – but for me the important piece that is often overlooked is the need to keep everyone engaged. Getting to where we need to be on the climate and nature is a marathon, not a sprint, and keeping our psychological bank balance in the positive is key to staying the course. There is advice out there though. You just need to go and look for it!

This can be hard when we are reminded of it on almost a daily occurrence. And it gets harder, undeniably harder, when we read about the re-emergence of climate scepticism, even climate denial from many parts of the world, spread via social media. But the evidence is there: you can read the latest from the IPCC, better still, just speak to communities living by the coast, or those up in the mountains near glaciers, or those reliant on predictable rainfall. They all tell a common story of changing weather patterns over the last two to four decades, making life and work more difficult.

Against this background we are becoming more aware of the changes that are needed and the fact that they are affecting, even impinging, on our day-to-day life. Understandably people are pushing back more against this for several reasons: the cost-of-living crisis and the financial burden that will fall on all of society if not managed and supported properly, and changes to our comfortable and convenient lifestyles to name just two.

There are political and geopolitical issues all around us too. The impact of regional wars: Ukraine, Gaza/Israel, and Yemen, not only on our ‘emotional fund’ to process all these issues, but also on direct practical aspects such as oil prices and trade routes. This is compounded by contradictory statements from our Government that we are on track for Net Zero Carbon by 2050, whilst still approving yet new concessions for North Sea oil and gas extraction, as well as moving the date on banning sales of new ICE cars from 2030 to 2035.

It can seem like an unrelenting barrage, can’t it?

But there are ways of staying focused. To keep on track we must acknowledge these and other barriers, and not be blind to them, but we must zero in on what we can do, where we can make a difference. It’s also about balance – not being worn down by pessimism and throwing your hands in the air shouting ‘what’s the point!?”, but likewise not being naively optimistic that someone else, or some technological miracle, will sort it out. It’s going to require a pragmatic, level-headed approach, with contributions from all parts of society.

Luckily for us, given that the built environment accounts for something like 40% of all GHG emissions (alongside transport, manufacturing and agriculture) from the construction and operation of our buildings, we have a great opportunity to make a real impact in moving our sector to one of lower carbon emissions. And we can achieve this across a building’s entire lifecycle, all the way from the initial concept and how it fits in with the wider community, through our designs and material choices, and out to how we construct the buildings and then run them. The way in which we collaborate with our value chain partners will only make this better.

A cause for being more positive?

But the built environment’s reach goes way beyond the 40% statistic. Due to its scale and connection to all parts of society – what organisation doesn’t have buildings or assets? – we can influence other sectors to, such as how the houses we build are ultimately used by the homeowners and how factories and warehouses are used and the kinds of transport connecting them.

And the key to unlocking this, for me at least, is engaging value chain stakeholders more on sustainable outcomes. Make it part of everyday conversations. Demand it in the procurement and contract management process. Embed it in everything we do, the same way as for health and safety. Make it habitual and instinctive.

Events like Futurebuild and collaboration initiatives like the Supply Chain Sustainability School are great because they allow us to all to come together, to share ideas and knowledge, exchange experiences on how to manage the complexities of the low carbon transition, and learn from each other. Of course, we have to respect competition law, but we can flip that to our collective favour to encourage creativity and innovation.

What we are dealing with is a clear opportunity to shift our way of working and in doing so generate a stronger, greener economy – one where we benefit from the joint benefits of a cleaner, healthier and more inclusive society and more stable economy.

A good enough reason to deal our climate fatigue?

Interested in how I can help your organisation with your climate strategy? Get in touch with me here.

For more information

James Cadman
Head of Climate and Consultancy
james@actionsustainability.com

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