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Magazine Issues » December 2021

Opinion: The need to make climate targets easy

Elizabeth_PfeutiIf you want something to be successful, make it easy for someone to use. Drive-through restaurants, remote controls and tea bags all make everyday tasks a teeny bit less laborious.

The same needs to happen around the dramatic shift we all have to make to stop the ravages of climate change on our planet. With these ravages in mind (and the cost of tax and insurance), we got rid of our second car just before the first lockdown. Most of our miles are to the in-laws or the golf club, we also live on a main road, next to a bus stop – easy and cheaper too! Imagine my shock, therefore, when I hailed the 710 on Saturday afternoon, for a trip to visit friends in the neighbouring town, some eight miles away. “Five pounds sixty?” I didn’t want to hire the whole thing, just take a seat for 16 minutes. This return fare was a whisker above the single, as some kind of bizarre incentive to make me return home.

“Five pounds sixty? It’s £1.55 in London for an hour of travel!” exclaimed one friend upon arrival. You could make out the skyline of the capital from our meeting point.

“And I have to leave at 7.30pm” – it was 3pm – “That is the last bus home on a Saturday.”

“They don’t make it easy, do they?” the other friend said.

If my car had not been with my husband at a golf club in East Sussex, parking would have cost me £3 and I would have travelled there on the power provided by our home charger (installed at our own expense), which runs off renewable energy.

The bus was not full. A couple with a young boy tried to barter with the driver for the cheapest fare (over £10) for an even shorter journey than me and a couple of pensioners flashed their passes. The roads, however, were full, even as our world leaders told us how we must all change our habits if we are to combat climate change together.

“It often doesn’t come,” said the lady at the bus stop as she, her daughter and I waited for the 7.30pm. “Would you share a cab with us if it doesn’t? It will cost us all around the same each.”

I don’t know when the bus got so expensive. Was it when people stopped using it or did they stop using it as it was getting so expensive? Who knows? But to make people change their attitude, you have to make it easy, and that also means affordable. We can’t all splash out for convenience.

When people have no other feasible option, we can’t achieve the targets we need to on climate change. We can’t expect people to step out of their comfort zone or find money they don’t have to meet the word’s climate goals. But there is money to be made by providing the carrot to bring them along.

At a conference a few months ago, the head of investment strategy at a large UK pension fund claimed it wanted to support a “just transition”. She meant that it would invest in a way to support those unable to shell out for fancy electric vehicles (amongst other things), and create roles to replace those that will be lost as our traditional way of living is phased out.

She was light on detail, but this way of thinking about practicalities really resonated with me. And with more than £20 billion in assets, this resonance could get a lot louder. This isn’t philanthropy – she has 10 million members to provide for.

If investors get creative and throw their weight behind initiatives that will truly get people changing their habits, they might realise that creating opportunities and investment returns is also easier than they might think.

By Liz Pfeuti

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