Discourses of Delay: What Causes Climate Change Inaction?

Written by Ollie Wilkinson

discourses of delay

We know the causes of global warming (spoiler alert – it’s us). And yet, climate change inaction is taking place across the world, leaving us all to ask… Why are we waiting? The earth is dehydrating! 

Chances are, you’ve heard an entire anthology of excuses as to why people aren’t reducing their carbon footprints. But it turns out there’s actually some psychology behind climate change inaction. 

Recent research has given us four key reasons behind the delays in properly tackling global warming. These are known as the discourses of climate delay, and we’re gonna myth-bust the heck outta them with some ready-made solutions! 

What are the discourses of climate delay? 

From politics to pubs and parties, debates on climate change are everywhere you look. So why all the dilly-dallying? 

According to the folks behind the Global Sustainability Journal, there are four reasons why some people are doing nothing. 

  1. 1. Surrender 

Example: “The ship has sailed. It’s impossible to do anything about climate change now.” 

Reading scary statistics about climate change can cause eco-anxiety and feelings of helplessness. People surrender when they decide global warming is an impossible opponent and admit defeat on overcoming the crisis. 

Sound familiar? Well, there’s no reason to go all Dido on us just yet. Keep that white flag lowered! 

Solution: While tackling global warming may seem like an uphill (or even upmountain) battle, all hope is not lost. 

We live in a world where Leicester City can win the Premier League and Mrs Brown’s Boys can air for three series and somehow get a movie. So what chance does climate change have if we all put our minds to beating it? 

Humanity is more committed to tackling climate change than ever before, and every day brings more technological advancements, publicity and legislative progression. 

Did you know, for example, that brainiacs have recently invented pee power and algae-fueled buildings that actually breathe? Yes, you read that first one correctly, electricity fueled by wee

Other reasons to be optimistic: 

  • – The electric vehicle market is booming, with one in ten vehicles now electric (Heycar). Take that, fossil fuels! 
  • – By 2026, renewable energy is set to rise to the same capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined (IEA). 
  • – There are lots of sustainable companies that can help you reduce your waste and carbon footprint… Like us! Our green milkround hasn’t prevented over 54 million plastic bottles from polluting our planet by surrendering! 

Don’t throw in the towel just yet, there are plenty more rounds in this fight! 

  1. 2. Redirect responsibility 

Example: “Climate change? Pfft, not my problem. There are loads of people and companies with bigger carbon footprints than me.” 

From emissions scandals to oil spills and deforestation, devious corporate shenanigans are everywhere you look. According to the Carbon Majors Report, over 70% of global emissions come from just 100 companies!  

Solution: Redirecting responsibility can be a common reaction to doom and gloom headlines about high-polluting companies. But if all of us made climate change someone else’s problem, nothing would ever get done.  

Ironically, tackling climate change can spread like wildfire, and many small footprints can make a big difference. Just ask your friendly local millipede. 

You only have to look at the influence of David Attenborough to realise the positive change one person can inspire. Sir David (or Saint as we call him) was actually the inspo behind our milkround; you can read all about this in the Modern Milkman story! 

  1. 3. Pushing non-transformative solutions 

Example: “Why start now when the Government’s just put all that work into those lovely looking emissions targets? Besides, Elon Musk is already on the case building us a new planet.” 

Pushing non-transformative solutions is corporate mumbo-jumbo for someone who believes climate change action is unnecessary and that something else will bail us out of trouble. “Something else” usually meaning vague, overly ambitious targets or new-fangled technology. 

Solution: Setting targets without a clear plan of action is like giving someone a teaspoon to dig their way to China. And relying on future technology alone is not enough to combat the plastic waste and food waste crises our planet is facing. 

Saving the planet shouldn’t be a voluntary effort, and positive changes don’t have to be disruptive. Even the seemingly smallest of things – like using reusable coffee cups and avoiding short drives to the shop – can have a huge collective impact on a brighter, greener future. 

  1. 4. Emphasising the downsides 

Example: “That all sounds awfully expensive. Besides, shouldn’t we wait for a solution EVERYONE agrees on?” 

We all know a negative nelly, whether it’s in the local boozer or at the annual family gathering. These arguments focus more on the potential downsides of green initiatives, rather than the many positives. 

Solution: Change is never easy. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Here are a couple of facts you can keep in your back pocket next time your annoying uncle complains that combating climate change is too disruptive: 

  • – Almost two-thirds of people are likelier to want to work for a company with solid environmental policies (Forbes). Therefore, new green policies could have a positive impact on the workforce economy. 
  • – The current hike in energy prices is partly due to an overreliance on finite fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, should provide more stability if more widely used. 
  • – The time to act is now. We only have a “brief window of time to avoid the very worst” of climate change (BBC). 

Why do people deny climate change? 

People who fall back on the discourses of climate delay are aware of the issues our planet faces but find an excuse to succumb to inaction. So, what about those who deny climate change exists in the first place? 

Climate change – much like a fart in an elevator – can be a case of whoever denies it supplies it. These are some of the reasons behind climate denial: 

  • – They’re protecting themselves from the cold, hard truth of global warming. 
  • – The internet is a wild place, and if people look hard enough, they’ll always find misinformation to prove wild theories. 
  • – They see climate change as a political issue, rather than a planetary issue. 
  • – They believe global warming isn’t as bad as scientists or the media make out. 
  • – They believe climate change is natural. 
  • Greenwashing companies have led them to question what they know about sustainability. 

It can be daunting to face such a massive issue, but global warming is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. And the only way to ensure a sustainable future for the next generations is to tackle it together. 

For more info on what’s stopping people from greener living, check out the results from our sustainability attitudes study. 

Why are climate change agreements difficult to implement? 

Ever had to decide which family to spend Christmas with? What about arranging a team night out or settling a football debate? You can times these near-impossible tasks by a million, and they still won’t be as difficult as getting the whole world to happily agree on something. 

Thanks to climate change policies like the Paris Agreement, governments all over the world are pledging to reduce emissions and slow down global warming. But there’s no means of enforcing these goals are met, which makes any further initiatives tricky to agree upon. 

What if no action is taken on climate change? 

We don’t care what you parents told you when you were younger. When it comes to sustainability, good things DO NOT come to those who wait!  

We can no longer hit the snooze button on climate change, and must act now to help protect our planet, ecosystems and habitats. 

What will happen if we don’t stop climate change: 

  • – Sea levels will continue to rise, while ice caps melt. 
  • – We’ll become increasingly exposed to severe heat waves, extreme weather and floods. 
  • – Habitats will be destroyed, and species lost. 
  • – We’ll be at more risk of health problems due to increased air pollution. 

These are just a few of the consequences of climate change. But individual action can make a massive difference to our collective future. 

How can we stop climate change? 

Sustainable development supports the following areas both now and in the future: 

  • – The health and wellbeing of our communities. 
  • – The health and biodiversity of our environment. 
  • – The economy. 

And the good news is that there are many ways we can prevent climate change, even from the comfort of our own homes! 

Ten ways to prevent climate change 

Fighting climate change doesn’t always have to involve huge initiatives and massive changes. There is no big knock-out punch to topple this giant, only lots of smaller, meaningful jabs right where it hurts. Here are ten ways you can make a difference at home: 

  1. 1. Make your own compost bin and start composting. This will reduce food waste and help grow more lovely green plants. 
  1. 2. Buy environmentally friendly groceries in sustainable packaging to reduce plastic waste. 
  1. 3. Get involved in rewilding projects to restore ecosystems and biodiversity. 
  1. 4. Shop locally to cut down emissions from food miles and transport. 
  1. 5. Connect with nature and help wildlife thrive in your garden
  1. 6. Reduce food waste by getting clued up on expiry dates and using anti-food waste apps
  1. 7. Walk and use public transport more. This will help reduce your emissions and carbon footprint if you have a diesel or petrol vehicle. 
  1. 8. Buy and sell secondhand goods, rather than always buying new. This cuts down our reliance on new materials. 
  1. 9. Repair and reuse items, rather than throwing them away. Turn those old frayed jeans into shorts and that shrunken tee shirt into a crop top! Upcycle that dusty old cabinet! Get creative! 
  1. 10. Spread the word! There are a few reasons why your friends, colleagues and relatives may not feel prepared to tackle climate change, but there are countless more reasons to get started and make a difference.  

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