‘Action on Climate, But Don’t Ask Us to Change’, People Say

By William J. Furney

As the battered climate change talks in Scotland drag into another soggy week and many lose interest in what environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg has already dismissed as a “failure”, a new international survey reveals that many people want politicians to deal with our rapidly warming planet but they’re unwilling to make sacrifices themselves. 

Many, surely, might scoff at the notion that they should give up a diet heavy in meat and dairy, as two two industries are among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases — or even cut back and eat more plants. Yet the 10-country survey shows that the overwhelming majority of those who took part (78%) “feel personally concerned about climate change”, underscoring the dichotomy between desire and action at individual level, and real and lasting change. 

And the majority of respondents to the poll (62%), conducted by UK-based research firm Kantar in September and early October, also believe that climate change and the devastation it’s bringing to the globe is the main problem the world is facing. Most (55%) said they had personally felt the negative impacts of a world in which temperatures are rising because of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the air. 

Delegates at COP26 are trying to hammer out an agreement to reduce carbon, methane and other emissions to such a level that the global temperature would fall by 1.5C by 2050 — a goal set at a previous climate change conference, in 2015 in Paris. But with the leaders of heavy polluters China and Russia not attending the UK talks and forging ahead with building many dozens of new coal-fired power plants, it seems unlikely any meaningful accord will be reached. 

The Kantar survey — carried out in the US, UK, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Singapore and New Zealand — found that nearly half of those questioned in each country (46%) thought they didn’t have to change their personal habits in order to help with the climate change battle. 

“If citizens are undeniably concerned by the state of the planet, the findings … raise some doubts regarding their level of commitment towards preserving it,” an analysis by Kantar of the findings says. 

“Questioned about which actions should be prioritised, respondents attribute greater importance to measures which are already established habits (recycling), or require a smaller individual effort, or for which they bear little or no direct responsibility.”

Instead, people focus on their own governments’ efforts on climate change and generally view them negatively, it says. 

“The widespread awareness of the importance of the climate  crisis, which is illustrated in this study, has yet to be coupled with a proportionate willingness to act. Indeed, in the eyes of many citizens, it may be up to public institutions to take the next step.”