By Dr Matt Winning, Environmental economist and comedian

I BELIEVE climate change is the greatest collective problem humanity has faced since the Second World War. It is the irreversible altering of our home. Yet it is incredibly hard to get people to pay attention to the issue on a daily basis, let alone actually do anything about it (in that way it’s also like getting people to come to your show at the Edinburgh Fringe). So why is climate change such a tough issue to solve?

We humans aren’t designed to deal with such a complex, slow moving problem. The human brain deals very well with noticing dangers and threats that are immediate and have proximity. A fire, a snake, a charity mugger ahead in the street. Also, we are particularly wired to care about what those around us think – our social group. In the past it was our tribes and now we look to our friends and family to see what they are doing or saying about climate change. So we are designed to pay attention to things that are close to us – whether that’s the people we care about or the types of dangers we face.

However, climate change feels so distant to us in a variety of ways. It always appears to be far off in the future. It always appears to be happening in far away places to people or animals we don’t particularly care about. How many polar bears do you invite over for Christmas dinner? Also, as greenhouse gases are invisible, it’s distant in that we can’t see it happening – unlike with plastic, which is a very visible type of pollution. The recent unprecedented heatwave we’ve been having is likely the only reason I’ve been asked to write this article – because it is fresh in people’s minds.

Only about one-quarter of the public actually strongly care about climate change either way. But these are the main voices we here. Studies from the United States show that three-quarters of the public are very much ambivalent towards climate change.. Many think it is an important issue but are unlikely to be talking personal action. Most likely because of the issues listed above. Or they have bigger worries – the economy or national security. But we have absolutely no control over these. Unlike emissions, which is just the sum of all our individual actions. So these middle groups are who we must focus on, to help them become more engaged with the issue and start taking actions regular on it – whether personal or political.

On top off all this we have a powerful fossil fuel industry which is very much intent on carrying on with business as usual for as long as possible. And therefore it has a vested interest to keep the general public on the fence. And of course we’ve benefited from North Sea oil and contributed to the problem.

It feels like the summer has brought about a shift in attitudes and the beginning of what is the new normal. So we need to step up to the plate. Each and every one of us.

The next 20 years will irreversibly determine the future of humanity on Earth. Scotland is undoubtedly at the vanguard of action on climate and I’m incredibly proud of that. But it is now time to start taking the tougher steps. Especially those who are well-off. People say they’d do anything for their children. That they’d die for their children. Yet they won’t not fly to Marbella for their children.

* Dr Matt Winning: Climate Strange is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 5pm, August 8-12 and 14-26 at Just the Attic (Venue 288).