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In the build up to COP26 and as HRH herself intervenes, is action on climate change at risk of polarising our society, and becoming the preserve of the middle classes?

The rhetoric on climate change has become almost evangelical. Only a few nights ago, I switched on the evening news to be greeted by our Prime Minister, stooped over a lectern, reminding me that “green is good, green is right, green works”. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment, I find the choice of language troubling.

Let’s consider this. As politicians, academics and scientists, alongside the great and the good from around the world gather at COP 26 in a few weeks, use of food banks continues to rise, the levelling up agenda feels like its faltering before it has really begun and households up and down the UK find themselves struggling to make ends meet. For many, ahead of any climate crisis is a far more immediate concern – the affordability of day-to-day living.

Our society is becoming increasingly polarised. On the one hand the middle classes, Gen Zs and meaningful millennials are waging a war on climate change. On the other, a widening group that can’t pay the bills and are worried that their jobs in carbon intensive industries are under threat.  And there’s a degree of judgement creeping in. A perception among some that failing to put the planet first is wrong, immoral even. You might go so far to say there’s a Brexit-like feel about it – hardened views on every side and a difficulty to meet in the middle.

But meet in the middle we must. Together, and only together will we forge a greener future. There is so much work to be done to make action on climate change a realistic consideration for all, not a luxury but an affordable necessity. The obvious starting point is language. Time for politicians to stop judging, dictating, preaching even and for journalists to enrich the debate as Katie Razzall and her guests discuss in the excellent edition of BBC R4’s The Media Show. Positive environmental behaviour and living on a budget are not mutually exclusive – greener living can be cheaper living if you know how – but there is a growing void of practical meaningful guidance to support change. The question now, is who will fill it?

Isabel Stanley Wickett headshot

Isabel Stanley is an associate director at Camargue