Are you aware that smoking kills? Most smokers under the age of 35 would have been made aware of the detrimental effect on their health long before they had their first cigarette. They are just as aware as I am that the planet we so claim to love is heading towards catastrophe. This awareness fills me with guilt every plastic bag I stuff my plastic-wrapped veggies in but darn the inconvenience of always having a tote bag. Was the awareness-raising in vain? Ineffective perhaps?
Whatever it might be, it was surely a costly affair, and a lot of government funding was utilised in the process. Money that could have been spent on jails for ecoterrorists such as myself. But my attempt at a joke aside, we should explore how useful funding awareness-raising still is.
In the world of non-profits, the beloved awareness-raising is the go-to when spreading consciousness about a problem or issue. It’s only natural that those who care about an issue want others to be equally concerned. It lies at the core of what activists, influencers and awareness-raisers have been doing. If people only knew that a seatbelt could save their lives, they would wear one every time. Or is it the hefty fine that precipitated people into buckling up for a safer driving experience? To know is not enough, we can discount knowledge and employ our internal justification based on costs, values, convenience, tradition, and a myriad of other reasons.
Let’s dwell on the seatbelt example for a little as it might help me get my point across. The seatbelt was introduced in the early 1950s by Dr C. Hunter Shelden and incorporated by Volvo in 1958. Yet, only from the 1980s, various governments adopted laws that required drivers to wear a seatbelt. The UK enforced seatbelts in 1983 which resulted in a 29% reduction in fatalities involving front-seat passengers. Comparable numbers were reported in other countries that adopted similar laws. The preceding 20 years, which saw a wide availability of seatbelts and awareness raising about its safety, showed no considerable behavioural changes. In the UK only 40% of its population wore a seatbelt when they became available in the years prior to the enactment of the law.