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Page added on February 28, 2008

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Climate change: Polar bears versus people

Not so long ago, climate change was regarded as an issue more likely to affect polar bears than people. Back then, campaigning on global warming was the territory of environmental groups like Greenpeace and their supporters. Other charities worried more about poverty, developing-country debt and unfair trade policies.

But now, as this Reuters feature points out, the public and policymakers have grasped the importance of climate change to people’s lives and the potentially catastrophic consequences of turning a blind eye. And, as everyone gets in on the act, the impact of green groups may be in decline.
“The mainstream has moved towards us,” Gerd Leipold, Greenpeace International’s executive director, told Reuters in an interview. “But consciousness doesn’t necessarily mean change. We have the awareness, but it doesn’t mean we behave more as green, sustainable societies.”

Environmentalists like Leipold believe they still have important work to do in terms of getting people to change their carbon-profligate behaviour. But the growing involvement of relief and development agencies in raising awareness about climate change is another factor that has shifted the goal posts.

“Please don’t leave this issue to the environmental organisations. They have a development blind spot, particularly with relation to climate change,” Christian Aid climate adviser Andrew Pendleton told aid workers at a discussion evening organised by Medecins Sans Frontieres late last year. “Climate change is a human issue; it doesn’t just affect ice caps and polar bears. It impacts on the poorest people.”


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