See More on Facebook


Despite global climate extremes, why is climate action so slow?

Denying, normalising or downplaying climate change impacts in our personal lives often leads to climate inaction.

Written by

Updated: August 1, 2019

Over a hundred people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in the first few weeks of the South Asian monsoon this year. These numbers were highest in Nepal, where the heaviest rainfall of the decade swept people, hillsides and highways away, leaving some of the world’s poorest to deal with unfathomable losses. Similar extreme conditions have been reported in other parts of South Asia, including India and Bangladesh, as well. With still a few more weeks of monsoon left, however, this disaster is far from over and casualties will continue to mount. Referring to these flood damages, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sent out a message reminding people of the ‘urgent need to act on climate change’.

There was initial speculation that richer countries (of the Global North) would fare much better because, among other reasons, the weather was likely to get more pleasant as the climate warmed. However, this assumption is fast proving to be short-sighted, with temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius in the region. This July—the month shaping out to be the hottest in Earth’s recorded history—heatstroke has been responsible for the deaths of several dozens of people in the US and Canada. New temperature highs are also being set in France, Britain, Germany and other European nations. In fact, the UK is seeing a record number of drownings as people desperately use bodies of water to stave off the heat.

Other major economies aren’t faring much better either. The Middle East is experiencing higher-than-normal temperatures in the 50s. Australia reported scorching temperatures in January this year—the hottest month in recorded history for them. Today, climate change has indiscriminately swept across the globe creating ‘hellish’ conditions for all.

As the mercury continues to rise, the environmental and human impacts of climate change will become much bigger than they currently are. However, once the temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—the upper limit that the Paris Agreement has famously identified—these impacts will become irreversible. Despite this understanding, however, the UN calculates that the current 2030 mitigation commitments are nowhere close to being enough. The fight against climate change has, surprisingly, not picked up the pace. Why?

Climate denialism

Modern civilisation was built on the back of fossil fuels. Therefore, today, much of the world’s economy, technology, infrastructure and lifestyle is complexly tied to the carbon-intensive Big Oil industry. However, modern innovation in green technology is beginning to make fossil fuel somewhat obsolete. To fight back, Big Oil lobbyists have infiltrated some of the biggest markets—like the USA and Australia—and effectively managed to turn climate change into a partisan issue. This has fueled climate denialists, which eventually led to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.

A 2019 survey conducted in 23 of the world’s biggest countries found that among developed economies, the US and Australia had the greatest percentage of people who doubted the legitimacy of climate change. In the US, for example, as much as 17 percent of the people agreed that ‘the idea of manmade global warming was a hoax that was invented to deceive people.’

Such climate-denying constituencies, that vote for candidates who promise to scrap environmental protection policies, obviously hinder climate progress. However, climate denialism by itself does not paint a complete picture. After all, for every climate denialist, the study shows that there are many more who concede that fossil fuel emissions are leading to a rapidly destabilising planet. What then is keeping countries (and their people) from pursuing stronger mitigation action?

Behaviour lag

Because the science behind the changing climate is so complex, there is no straightforward solution that can completely rectify this issue. Addressing climate change requires fundamental shifts of cemented human behaviour on many fronts—a feat that is hard to achieve. For this reason, climate change has been referred by experts as a ‘policy problem from hell’.

Low carbon technologies like alternative fuels and energy storage have existed for well over a decade. However, the policies and infrastructure of many nations, that were designed during the age of fossil fuels, are locked in. Any change is perceived as too costly for the economy. This happens despite evidence that once initial capital costs are met, greener technology often tend to be more cost-effective.

As climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather, recent research suggests that people may start perceiving these events as normal. This study, which analysed the tweets of two billion Americans, shows that after as little as two to eight years of repeated impact, people tended to see extreme events as a result of natural climate variation (and by extension, not a consequence of climate change).

Compounding this problem is the fact that the causation between one particular extreme event and climate change is rarely established. Because climate change causes environmental disruptions in so many different (often hidden and cascading) ways, tying any particular event to climate change requires extensive research and resources. These causal linkages are, therefore, rarely established, leaving room for people to question the role of climate change in any single extreme episode.

These tendencies to normalise or question the legitimacy of climate change impacts in our own lives and immediate environment often leads us to justify that the rapidly warming climate is not affecting us. It is often perceived as a threat to distant people from another generation, other socio-economic strata or geographic region. This rationalisation gives us plenty of mental space to postpone action—to not change lifestyle, consumption, footprint, or policies.

Consensus and cooperation

It is human nature to look for immediate benefits over long term ones. And this is exactly what we tend to do when it comes to climate change. We either deny that there is a crisis or rationalise that taking action is expensive or unnecessary because the impacts are so very far away.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that climate change impacts are already on all our doorsteps. The climate emergency is a global collective problem—it can only be solved with every nation’s consensus and cooperation. It is, therefore, now time to put short term interests behind us and work towards the greater good.

Enjoyed this story? Share it.

The Kathmandu Post
About the Author: The Kathmandu Post was Nepal’s first privately owned English broadsheet daily and is currently the country's leading English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here


Frontier technologies pathway for prosperity, says Indonesian Finance Minister

Frontier technologies bring new opportunities as well as wide-ranging impacts and policy implications for the economy at the national, regional and global levels, writes Sri Mulyani Indrawati in an Oped. Rapid technological transformation is one of the defining factors in shaping the future of our economy — at the national, regional and global levels. Frontier technologies bring new opportunities, as well as wide-ranging impacts and policy implications. This transformation has affected economic performance, fostered production efficiency, revolutionized society and accelerated globalization. This trend is a key issue of our time and should spur renewed momentum for policy cooperation. The current wave of technological change is unique in terms of the breadth of its scope and the pace of change. It affects how goods, services and ideas are exchanged. The fast-declining costs of these technologies make

By The Jakarta Post
October 10, 2019


The foreigner who stoked political chaos in Malaysia

For Asia News Network Editor’s Circle by Chong Lip Teck of Sin Chew Daily. Controversial Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik is on the wanted list in India due to his extreme religious remarks and alleged involvement in money laundering. Many Muslim countries have denied him entry. But in Malaysia, he is well received by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. Within the coalition, however, there is a split because of him. The ground sentiment is also divided into two, on  racial and religious lines. One side has defended him while the other side asked for his repatriation. As a Muslim preacher, Zakir Naik is popular in the Muslim community. He has his charm. While promoting Islam, he would  downgrade other religions, especially the Hindus and Christians. But, as a guest in Malaysia, he has crossed the red line. If he is merely promoting Islam, no one is against him. But he insults other religions in his sp

By ANN Members
September 16, 2019


Is Twitter aiding India’s quest to silence Kashmiris?

The prospect of internet censorship looms. The spectre of an internet clampdown has once again reared its ugly head. This time though, the perceived cause is the social media companies — the digital gatekeepers who rally behind the idea of free expression for all. In the past few weeks, several users have complained that their accounts or tweets were suspended or withheld for posting about events in India-held Kashmir. The Pakistan government specified about 200 accounts that were suspended to Twitter, accusing the platform of aiding India’s quest to silence Kashmiris and their supporters. Among the many people whose accounts have been reported recently, President Arif Alvi also received a notice from Twitter alerting him on a complaint it received requesting for removal of his tweet on Kashmir. Although Twitter did not find the tweet to be in violation of its rules and took no action, its content m

By Dawn
September 2, 2019


Modi’s next move

Moeed Yusuf, the author of Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: US Crisis Management in South Asia, writes for Dawn newspaper.  For most in Pakistan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move of revoking held Kashmir’s special status in the Indian constitution came as a shock — even if his government’s manifesto categorically stated his intent to do so. Shocking? Hardly. In fact, the move has laid to rest any pretence that Modi recognises the need to be a centrist prime minister and that his pandering to his right-wing RSS support base is only a way to keep them in good humour. Everything about his government’s demeanour over the past couple of weeks confirms the deep ideological conviction that underpins his actions. Sadly, the popular rebuttal that India’s democracy is robust enough to keep the minorities from being jett

By Dawn
August 21, 2019


Editorial: Draconian measures in Jammu & Kashmir

India must treat Kashmiris like its own citizens the way it claims and not alienate them any longer. On August 5, the world’s largest secular democracy decided to unilaterally dissolve the autonomy of its only Muslim-majority state and replace it with direct rule by the federal government. Eight days since, the goings-on in what was once Jammu and Kashmir, home to 12.5 million, remain opaque. The region is under curfew, with all communication and media cut and security forces on the streets enforcing a tight clampdown. Even as international media cover Indian-administered Kashmir to shed more light on the situation, India insist

By The Kathmandu Post
August 15, 2019


When Jakarta is hit by inconvenience: The capital’s grand blackout

Indonesians are waking up to far-flung grievances. The Sunday blackout on Aug. 4 in Greater Jakarta and parts of West Java was said to be the worst in many years. Family and friends’ gatherings were still cheerful but hot as houses lost their air-cons; the new pride of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and that of Jakartans, the MRT, seemed to blush in shame as the power back up, it turned out, was for the stations and not ready yet for the MRT itself – from which passengers had to be evacuated. Gone was all the talk of the digital revolution and the cashless world as people suddenly found they had to rummage for cash for transactions. We’re still waiting for results of an investigation into what happened following the president’s stone-faced response; so speculations range from inadequate back up, slow contingency measures to allegations of sabotage and even whether a single big tree g

By Asia News Network
August 12, 2019