Discourses of climate inaction undermine public support for 1.5 °C lifestyles

Catherine Cherry, Caroline Verfuerth, Christina Demski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urgent action to tackle the climate crisis will only be possible with significant public support for radical lifestyle change. Arguments that seek to delay climate action and justify inadequate mitigation efforts, often termed ‘discourses of delay’, are widespread within political and media debate on climate change. Here we report the results of novel public deliberation and visioning workshops, conducted across the UK in 2020/2021 to explore visions of a 1.5 °C future. We found that despite very strong public support for many low-carbon lifestyle strategies in principle, entrenched discourses of delay are limiting beliefs that a fair, low-carbon future is possible. Consisting of four overarching narratives of climate inaction (Resisting personal responsibility; Rejecting the need for urgency; Believing change is impossible; and Defending the social contract), this public discourse of delay is characterised by three distinct repertoires (each with its own emotional resonance), that act to weaken support for climate action by producing defensive responses to discussions of low-carbon lifestyle change and undermining public sense of agency. We argue that countering these narratives, and the defensive responses they invoke, is essential for achieving meaningful public action on climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102875
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2024


  • Deliberative visioning
  • Discourses of delay
  • Low-carbon futures
  • Public perceptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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