The European Parliament and the European Commission published this month a special Eurobarometer – which can also be accessed through Renata Goldirova’s article on euobserver.com – on Europeans’ attitudes towards climate change. When asked about what they think to be the most serious problem currently facing the world as a whole, a representative sample of EU citizens rates first “poverty, lack of food an drinking water”, and second “global warming / climate change”. It is interesting that “international terrorism” is third on the list – it reassures me that this one is not top of the list – before “armed conflicts”, “a major global economic downturn”, “the spread of an infectious disease”, “the proliferation of nuclear weapons”, and “the increasing world population”. It is very interesting to read the more detailed analysis, splitting up the answers according to region, gender, age, level of formation and education, etc. What interests me most, however, is that issues of environment and poverty are considered primary concerns. As I have tried to argue in some previous blogs, these are also linked. So, I would say: the Europeans have their judgement in the right place. I hope this will give a boost to European politicians who are committed to policies on poverty reduction and environmental care (I hope, of course, they will formulate these policies in a positive, creative and forward looking way, and not in a reactive manner).
On the downside, it appears that Europeans do not feel sufficiently informed about climate change issues. In a conversation this evening – unrelated to this Eurobarometer – some of the reasons appeared: too much confusing information (what and whom should we believe?), too complex, too depressing, too unclear about what people can and should do, … The following quote from the report shows the complexity of responses:
… we see that respondents with a longer education who feel well-informed about climate change (its causes, consequences and the ways of fighting it) or who consider this phenomenon to be a very serious problem are more inclined to believe that climate change is serious, that the process of it can be stopped, that alternative fuels should be used to fight it and that fighting climate change would impact European economy positively than respondents who spent shorter time within education, rather feel poorly informed about the subject or do not think that climate change is a serious problem.
I personally do not feel fully recognized in this result. I think I have had a very long education and that I am more or less well-informed about climate change. I do believe that climate change is VERY serious, I am not convinced that the process of it can be stopped (I think we may mitigate the effects to some extend, but I am also convinced that we will have to adapt), I am not convinced that alternative fuels and technological means are sufficient on their own to tackle the challenges (I think that we will have to change our lifestyles and frames of interpretation and understanding the world), and I am not sure anymore about what I should understand by “economy” as I think that this is one of the areas where reframing is absolutely urgent and necessary.
So, I would be less optimistic than most of my fellow Europeans, but I am very far from thinking that the battles are lost … On the contrary. As a theologian, I would say that we are at a “kairos”, an important moment in time, when decisions are taken on important issues, and when the great qualities and creative potential of human beings come to the fore. I think we will have to work on several fronts: intellectual (reframing our perceptions and understandings of the world), action (personal, political and structural in a worldwide perspective), values (creational respect, justice), spiritual (personal and communal attitudes, developing the potential for common discernment), symbolic (often we find inspiration in our capacity to dream, to en-vision and to celebrate life), etc. I remain convinced that it is very important to commit personally, at a very concrete level (e.g. our use of water and energy consumption), to keep focussed and also to keep hopeful and creative.
The Europeans put poverty and environment on top of their list … Benedict XVI links both of these with the concern for the young people. Our world belongs to the young people … they will inhabit it tomorrow. The issue is not only to make it sustainable for them, at this moment – while we are probing into what to do – we will also have to listen to their intuitions, their capacities to tackle the complex, and their wisdom. The challenge is to create new forms of knowledge, a deeper spiritual sense that connects us with one another and with the world as a gift, and a sense of how – in action, in thought and in relationships – the local and the global, the individual and the structural, go hand in hand. The fact that the issue of poverty is linked to climate change, reminds us of issues of justice and of the principle of a preferential alliance with the poor, listening to their needs, anxieties and longings, while recognizing their creativity.
These are risky, but above all exciting times! These are also times when, more than ever before, we – most certainly the Europeans – have to be shocked and concerned, moved into action, by the suffering of many people around us.