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National policy provides the leadership, influence and funds that help society improve its use of resources. With everyone calling upon the government to shift its policy framework; subsidies, taxes and incentives would result in large scale shifts in behaviour and the adoption of new technologies. We all can be activists to make this happen by simply writing to our public representative or by joining a campaigning group.
Here you will learn what governments have the influence to change and what role an individual can play in influencing politicians.
The role of the national government
National policy leads all forms of societal function, with the biggest lever they have being money through taxes, fines, grants and subsidies. Local government has more control over things which affect people; transport policy, housing standards, waste management and green spaces. The role of the national government is to set the policy to guide society. As such, they need to be very aware of what business, people and institutions need.
Often national government policy is pointed to as the silver bullet to tackle the climate and ecological crises. What is often misunderstood is the need to shift public opinion to enable such policies to be adopted. That means getting more people and businesses to understand how they need to make a change in order to be more sustainable, and then getting them to pressure the government to implement policy to support them.
Although this is the case, the national government can make policy declarations which help society to understand the importance of an issue. These policy declarations are usually over a period of time and do result in businesses and institutions changing behaviour. Examples of such policy are mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from business and the banning of the sale of petrol and diesel cars.
The downside of such a policy is that newly elected governments can overturn these policies, making them a political football.
The role of individuals and business
Being educated about the solutions, and about the restrictions on individuals to adopt such solutions, is an important starting point. Understanding what governments can do to support change and what policies will make a real difference is extremely important. Writing to public officials from the perspective of a frustrated concerned citizen often yields much better results than a declaration of outrage about the government not doing enough to tackle climate change.
The role is, therefore, one of educating the member of state or parliamentarian. They need to understand your frustration about how you find it difficult to live a low impact lifestyle, and why you believe a policy change would make a big difference. Their role is to digest such thinking and translate it back to their political party or within public debates so that your voice is heard. If they fail to do this for many people, then it is unlikely that they will be elected again.
Joining groups that represent a particular issue can also be a powerful way of demonstrating public support. If a large number of people congregate to discuss an issue with others supporting, this will show politicians that these are issues to be considered more carefully. They are then willing to sit down with particular groups and talk through the concerns and what actions are possible to respond to them.
Live more sustainably or wait for policy?
Many believe it is not possible to live more sustainably without national policy influencing a mass shift in behaviour. Some who believe in this will campaign passionately for change, whilst not living sustainably. Unfortunately, this attitude creates inertia – a proportion of businesses and individuals choose to do nothing and so does the government, resulting in no movement on important issues.
The only way to truly break the cycle is to find a way to live more sustainably and then educate individuals and groups of people to do the same, and then tell the government why you find it so hard. People’s lack of understanding of the means to make a better future result in governments not knowing what they need to do. Someone needs to fill the knowledge gap, and the people who are best placed to do that are the members of a concerned society.