From deniers to believers: Controlling the climate change narrative

Jun 26, 2020|Titilope Odeyinka

My grandmother - who is non-English speaking laments at the current unpredictable weather patterns in the country. She would frown in disbelief at the heavy rains in January or the lack of mangoes in June. 

She might never utter the words "climate change" in a sentence. But, she is observant enough to know the world she was born in some eighty years ago is now very different. 

One can describe climate change as a long-term disruption in standard weather patterns. 

Closer to the mind is how the sun’s radiation moves from being moderately bearable to a heated furnace, right after a downpour that brought floods threatening submersion. 

But significant shifts in climate patterns take decades before presenting themselves in the form of activities that are risky to our wellbeing. Things like rising sea levels; extreme weather such as hurricanes, heatwaves, are effects of these changes. 


Perceptions and beliefs shaping climate change narratives in Nigeria

We can’t survive without our environment. This vital relationship suggests that human activities should rationally be protective of their natural habitats. 

However, research indicates that our actions are responsible for more than half of today’s damaging environmental changes. Still, some debates show a disbelief or confusion on how these changes are as a result of what people do or don’t do.

In the book titled Psychology of Climate Change, the authors explore why people deny the existence of climate change and why they are often unwilling to adapt their behaviour. 

One challenge in getting people to become concerned about the climatic conditions in the Nigerian scene is a deep root in religion. More than 90% of the population are believers of one Abrahamic religion or the other. 

A recurring theme is the promise of the end of the world and the signs which show that the world would indeed end. 

Some of these signs include natural disasters, drought or its opposite. This means that a staunch believer of some religions might see a flood not as a product of global warming, but as a proof of the end time. 

While others believe an atonement or sacrificial offering could have solved poor farming seasons. 

Although active steps towards better environmental behaviour is a collective responsibility, this can be quite the challenge in a country where over half the population live on less than a dollar a day. Figuring out how to save the planet is not a top priority to most.

The bulk of the work thus falls on social and environmental psychologists tasked with educating people and challenging their beliefs, while still respecting their rights to uphold those beliefs.

One area to begin is the agricultural sector. It bears a direct impact of these changes and affects at least 70% of Nigerians who depend on the value chain. 

In discussing the psychology of climate change in the Nigerian context, one must acknowledge that there’s a knowledge barrier.

While a lot of people might acknowledge that there’s a problem with the world currently, they don’t know how to help in solving these problems. 

As developed economies are switching to renewable energy and changing habits like reducing plastic bags, productive work should be done to show Nigerians the benefits of change. 


Why me first?

But who would take the giant leap and eliminate the use of nylon bags from their lives, in a bid to save the planet? 

Some would, but not very many people in Nigeria can afford to. Refuse burning is still a habit most communities in Nigeria engage to get rid of waste. 

Knowing the dire implications of these habits is however not enough to stop because of a term psychologists refer to as diffusion of responsibility.

It is a perception common with human nature where people are less likely to take responsibility for actions when it does not directly affect them. 

This diffusion tends to occur because people generally wait for someone else to take the first step.

It took constant and tireless effort of public awareness to get America’s New York City to ban the use of plastic shopping bags in March this year.

The same applies to the issue of desertification caused primarily by activities such as overgrazing, deforestation or taking too much wood for productive activities. 

It would take sheer guts for one Fulani herdsman to decide among his peers that, he’d rather allow his cows to die of hunger; than ravage the earth for the last blade of grass.

Convincing Nigerians that the war against climate change is a collective responsibility could be hard. Especially when a glance around shows everyone else contributes more towards compounding the effects of climate change.  

Let's take a look at the level of carbon dioxide (CO2)  emissions -another way human activities contribute to these climatic changes. They are produced during consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels. Countries like China, the worlds largest polluter, produces 28% of global Co2 emissions; far outpacing Nigeria which is at 0.23%. 

Nevertheless, we can do more to encourage safe and responsible environmental practices. Emissions in the country have risen by at least 2% every year since 2015.

Lagos State’s membership of the Global Covenant Mayors for Climate Change is already a move in the right direction. The global community is aimed towards bending the curve of emissions that has been upward for the past 50 years, city after city.

One problem is that the resources to help these Nigerians act more sustainably have not been fully put in place. 


How can we make progress?

Acts from environmental activists, such as Jumoke Beyioku who advocates for climate change’s inclusion in the Nigerian school curriculum is admirable.

But, conservation psychologist, John Fraser thinks that getting individuals to change everyday behaviours and to engage in a civil action is paramount too. 

There are numerous examples of people enforcing climate-friendly behaviour using the law. In the US and across the world, people and communities are winning multiple lawsuits against the oil industry-the world’s biggest producer of emissions, and the government. 

Such actions drive driving awareness around the subject and help people understand the subject concerning their life. Thereby raising the standards for acceptable practices that can further protect the environment

If we have any hope of not perishing with the planet, there is hardly any way out than to intentionally change human activities starting with people’s perception for a better relationship with our surroundings and how we live in it. 


You can follow this writer on Twitter @Toddsy_

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