HOT ISSUE: Is the green message getting lost in a cacophony of voices?

New research claims that global warming will cause the extinction of a quarter of all animal species by 2050. Environmental groups have long warned of the dangers of climate change, yet the problem persists.

Last week, Earthwatch said green groups need a more united voice if they are to have any impact.

DAVID HILLYARD, head of corporate programmes, Earthwatch Institute


There are undoubtedly a wide range of serious environmental issues that need to be addressed urgently, of which climate change is one of the most important. It is also true that there are different opinions with regard to how to address them, which I believe leads to the loss of a clear message to encourage positive and significant action. In this sense the green message can and does get lost.

Often environmental issues are cast in a very negative light and at a global scale, which leaves people feeling helpless. It is critical that we all recognise that there is a lot of positive action to be taken at an individual level, such as in our own purchasing decisions and lifestyle, as well as through collective efforts at a wider social and political level which we can all influence.

ROGER HIGMAN, senior climate campaigner, Friends of the Earth


The message is failing to get through because of resistance from business to take action, and because of the influence business has on governments.

The US is by far the worst offender, and its oil industry interests dominate policy at home and abroad. Indeed George Bush initially denied the existence of climate change, and refused to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol - the only international agreement there is to tackle climate change.

Here in the UK, the Government has done many good things but still allows dirty coal-fired power stations to produce 35 per cent of our electricity and is encouraging the expansion of air travel - the fastest-growing source of polluting carbon dioxide. It is not surprising then that members of the public feel there is little they can do, and this is not because of differences between environmentalists.

Environmental organisations have presented a united front on this issue.

But the message has been resisted by short-sighted business groups who feel they will lose out if action is taken.

BEN SHAW, senior policy officer, Green Alliance


But while the green message may not be being lost, it is definitely not reaching people loud and clear. There is a reasonable degree of public awareness of climate change as a problem, but poor understanding of what the implications are for them and what they can do about it.

Earthwatch suggested last week that the environmental movement needs to present a united front on climate change issues to overcome this. NGO co-ordination is important but there is a broader issue. People are confused about what to do about climate change - not because the messages they receive from green groups are confusing, but because the messages they receive from green groups contradict other messages they receive in their daily lives. Government and green groups ask us to use our cars less, but the alternatives like rail are more expensive; we should all insulate our homes, but the low cost of energy makes it uneconomic; adverts urge us to buy ever more energy-guzzling products, and so on. The Government has started to develop the policies to resolve these contradictions but more action is needed and communication needs to be a central element of this.

DALEEP MUKARJI, director, Christian Aid


There are confusing messages coming out and people don't immediately see how climate change relates to their everyday life and the lives of people around the world.

While it is important to protect animals, the environment and the planet, people need to see it in the context of their own lives and their economic and social wellbeing. If it comes across clearly that climate change and loss of biodiversity will affect our lives and that we can make a difference, then people will take it more seriously. It is hugely important but people are not getting the message across.

If you are talking to a religious audience you can say 'this world is made by God and God wants us to look after it'. But when you are talking to the secular world, I think you need to make the point that the destruction of plants and animals will eventually lead to the destruction of human beings. People want to know what's in it for them, and why not? Not everyone is altruistic - you have to tell them why it is in their interests to do something about it.

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