Popular opinion, and recent decisions made by the electorate, suggest that the voting British public are unaware of the concept and importance of sustainability, and have very little intention to of exploring and developing this knowledge. This is at a time when the UK’s ‘green’ economy is growing by billions of pounds every year, and when 97% of scientists have agreed that climate change is a result of anthropogenic activity. With this evidence of concern from both scientists and politicians, why do the majority of people remain uninterested in the concept?
Mass media marketing has been proved time and again to have a powerful influence on public opinion. If something is kept in the public eye for long enough, people soon get on board with it, regardless of its nature. Due to its ‘unbiased nature’, mass media has a tendency to bring attention to matters already popular with the general public, and omit that which it deems to be less interesting. While this system will influence people to watch a news channel that entertains or buy a particular newspaper that captures their attention, it is inherently flawed in raising awareness of important issues. If our news sources are not designed to bring us the news that we deem unimportant or news we simply do not want to hear, but rather to perpetuate the same old thoughts and opinions, it is easy to see why an unfamiliar concept such as sustainability is unlikely to gain popularity through the media.
What the media does not tell us is that the most beneficial thing we can do for ourselves, future generations and for the rest of the planet, is to improve our sustainability by cutting down on our use of resources, reducing and reusing waste and finding ways of creating clean, renewable energy to replace the use of fossil fuels. These changes would involve adjustments to the way we live our lives, and thus a problem is posed for those who simply do not see why they should have to inconvenience themselves to contribute to a cause they know very little about. In many cases the potential threat of a change to lifestyle solicits a hostile reaction, bringing about unnecessarily aggressive opposition.
How, then, do we change popular opinion and begin creating a shift in the way we as a country perceive sustainability? The only way to reach people on a national scale is to provide them with information and to set an example they can follow. This could be through continued development of the ‘green’ business sector to bring public attention to the potential benefits of sustainability, through the development of new and better technologies that can provide clean, renewable energy, or by providing well-researched information on the benefits to be gained by forward-thinking businesses who accept the sustainability challenge with the support of dedicated and skilled experts within this field. These approaches are beginning to have an impact, and the concept and importance of sustainability is slowly but surely filtering through into the British mass consciousness.
Although uncertain whether the UK will attain the levels of environmental awareness seen in countries such as Germany and Sweden any time soon, it is nevertheless encouraging that the country is progressing in the right direction, despite the negative influences imposed by the media. The next step is, of course, to catch up with the countries that are in advance of the UK in terms of sustainability and which, as a result of their forward planning, are likely to reap the benefits when fossil fuel supplies start to decline in a few decades. In a worst-case scenario where no real progress is made until fossil fuels can no longer provide what we need, we can only hope that the ensuing media storm will finally push the government, businesses and the general public into focussing their efforts into the implementation of the costly, but ultimately necessary schemes needed to bring us closer to sustainability. We will hopefully wake up to our responsibilities well before then – the time for action is now!