Awareness of Climate Change Must Go Mainstream

  • by Amantha Perera (colombo)
  • Tuesday, May 22, 2012
  • Inter Press Service
Poor communities are hit hardest by extreme weather events, but have the least knowledge about climate change. -  Amantha Perera/IPS
Poor communities are hit hardest by extreme weather events, but have the least knowledge about climate change. - Amantha Perera/IPS

Describing a region prone to more frequent and deadly natural disasters, Rizvi lamented that, despite these regular climate catastrophes, knowledge and awareness on climate change and extreme weather events among ordinary people remains low at worst and peripheral at best.

The IUCN expert said that the subject remained outside the boundaries of the average person’s daily discourse, despite Asia feeling the bite of changing climate patterns with increasing regularity.

'We need to bring climate change into the mainstream; it is still looked at (by most people) as a subject that only scientists are talking about,' he told IPS.

It has been two decades since the first major United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and 10 years since the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, but awareness on climate change remains low among populations in countries like Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Vietnam.

The IUCN expert told IPS that, in these countries, there is a wide gap between scientific discourse on global warming and awareness among the worst affected populations.

With the Rio+20 Earth Summit, scheduled to be held in the 1992 host country Brazil from Jun.20-22, inching closer, experts say the need to raise public awareness on the state of the planet’s climate is more urgent than ever.

'We have failed to communicate properly on issues relating to climate change. They impact our daily lives in so many ways, for example, the availability of clean drinking water or the allocation of funds for public works,' Rizvi said.

The failure has been in communicating that any change in climate patterns impacts the lives of people directly, even if they don’t understand the link at first, he said.

'We have to make the (average citizen), who is more interested in his/her daily wage, understand that it will be impacted by the rainfall or lack of it,' Rizvi said.

Damyanthi, a manager of the international section in a leading Sri Lankan bank in Wattala, a suburb just outside the capital Colombo, is a perfect example of this problem.

She told IPS that she had next to no knowledge of climate change or extreme weather events.

'I really don’t understand the subject, it is so complex,' Damyanthi, who feels she is up to date on current affairs, told IPS.

Experts say that even those whose livelihoods are inextricably linked with the weather are not well-versed on the details of changing climate conditions.

'There is a lot of attention on the impact of climate change. But very little of that is transferred to ground level,' said Lareef Zubair, a former scientist at Columbia University's international research institute for climate and society and currently the principal scientist at a leading Sri Lankan institute that carries out extensive research on climate change and its impact on agriculture.

Zubair told IPS that farmers in rural Sri Lankan regions do not quite understand why rain patterns have been erratic in the last decade or so. 'They seem to (realise) that they cannot depend on consistent rainfall patterns anymore, but have no clue as to why it is happening or how to plan ahead,' he said.

Zubair told IPS that there was a breakdown in the communication of reasons for climate change-related weather events and their impact on the people.

'This is something that we need to correct, otherwise, we will find it hard to control the damage.'

IUCN’s Rizvi warned that as long as this lack of knowledge persisted, even effective measures taken to mitigate the effects of changing weather patterns would become toothless.

'Ignorance will worsen the situation and adaptation and mitigation measures will remain action plans on a piece of paper,' he said. He added that the slowly evolving nature of climate change made it hard for people to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Some experts feel that recent extreme weather events may help to provoke mass interest in the changing climate. Ritu Dave, a climate change specialist at the Washington-based World Bank Institute, told IPS that lately there has been an increase in awareness on extreme weather events, especially in parts of Asia that have endured terrible climate-related catastrophes.

'People seem to be becoming more aware that extreme weather can be dangerous,' she told IPS on the sidelines of a workshop in Colombo on sustainable urban development. Dave added that school children were the most receptive to training and awareness programmes and a potent weapon against ignorance.

'They are the ones who can go and make a change, who can change the way things are done in their own homes,' she said.

Rizvi feels that Rio +20 should not be limited to a gathering of policy makers, and should be used to focus mass attention on the crisis.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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