First published in the New Scientist magazine
The struggle to persuade the inhabitants of industrialised nations to rein in their carbon emissions is well documented, but how is climate change viewed by people in developing countries? My research in Uganda provides some surprising insights. Opposing the scientific consensus on climate change has become something of an article of faith for the socially conservative religious right in the US. But in Uganda - a deeply religious and superstitious nation infamous for its rampant homophobia - climate change scepticism is nowhere to be seen.
The climate is a constant topic of conversation among ordinary Ugandans. More than 80 per cent of them are farmers, and people are in no doubt that the climate is changing. The seasonal rains that once arrived with precision are now erratic and unpredictable. When your living depends on the fertility of your farmland, the climate is vitally important. In an office in London or New York it is less of a big deal - and the invisibility of climate change in developed countries is a barrier to communicating the risks.
The fact that climate change is viewed through a local lens in Uganda has another important implication: there seems to be very little anger or resentment directed towards the nations that bear the historical responsibility for climate change. Instead, the national conversation focuses on the ways in which Ugandans can make their environment as resilient as possible. The stark reality is that even though Uganda has done little to cause climate change it will be forced to adapt to its effects.
The Ugandan approach poses an interesting question for communicating climate change in developed countries: are the grand narratives about moral responsibility and catastrophic climate chaos putting people off? Perhaps a more pragmatic framing of the challenge of decarbonisation would deflect the more hysterical objections of climate sceptics - but also allow climate change to break out of the eco-warrior niche that it frustratingly still occupies.