Stop the gaslighting over climate and take real action

By Sarah Whitebread, Chair of Cambridge Carbon Footprint

With just over 50 days to go until the Glasgow climate summit, the climate and environment emergency is racing up the list of voters’ priorities. A poll by Opinium in August found it to be the second most mentioned issue of concern to the public, only behind the COVID-19 pandemic. Concern about the climate crisis spreads across political allegiance, age, social background, and remain or leave voters. This steady build up in concern has mirrored the rapidly increasing occurrence of so called “one-hundred year” weather events, from storms to heat waves, which have wreaked havoc all across the world.

By an overwhelming majority, the public accept the case for action.

For more than fifteen years, Cambridge Carbon Footprint has been advocating individual and community action on climate change. We have encouraged people to come together, through our carbon conversations course, open eco homes events, repair cafes and much more, to take direct steps to reduce individual carbon emissions.

We encourage this personal action not just because all emissions reductions matter, but because we know that taking personal action deepens a person’s commitment to the environmental cause and makes them better advocates for more holistic action. As the crisis has worsened, many argue individuals can’t make a difference: we profoundly disagree.

But we also know from over a decade working on this stuff about the barriers many face to take action.  From the cost of home improvements, to the lack of decent public transport, to the social and cultural pressure to consume more and more. These are things where Governments need to step up.


So it was frankly pretty galling, even for us proponents of individual action, to see Government COP26 spokesperson Allegra Stratton using her platform over the summer to promote changing our dishwasher habits or choice of shampoo as solutions to the climate crisis. This gaslighting from Government – shifting the responsibility from those with greatest influence and power to individuals, is incredibly cynical in the run up to the UK hosting the UN climate conference. This is a time for our Government to step up, to show the action it is taking on climate. That means using all the tools of government to transform our society and economy. It will involve difficult decisions and taking on complex issues. But it is vital. And whilst words have been warm, ambition high and some progress made, it is clear the Government has a long way to go.

So whatever dishwasher rinsing regime we want to adopt, perhaps the most powerful action we can all take ahead of COP26 is to write to our MP, take to the streets, and demand real action from our political leaders. Before it really is too late.

This article first appeared in the Cambridge Independent on the 15th of September 2021.