People say they are more likely to recycle or cut back on energy use at home compared to other actions to reduce their impact on the environment, new survey data suggests.
And disagreeing that humans cause climate change doesn’t necessarily prevent people making environmentally-friendly lifestyle changes.
We recently reported on a survey carried out for Chatham House examining public opinion about climate change and meat and dairy consumption. But the survey of thousands of people in 12 countries didn’t just ask questions about eating habits. Chatham House has kindly allowed us to delve a little deeper into their data.
Who agrees that humans contribute to climate change?
The study asked people about their views on climate change and the actions they might be prepared to take to reduce their impact on the environment. Across the 12 countries, 83 per cent of people surveyed say they agree that humans contribute to climate change. Just seven per cent disagree. For the UK specifically, 78 per cent of respondents agree, putting the UK towards the bottom of the list in terms of national levels of agreement.
Proportion of respondents in each country who say they agree/disagree with the statement: “Human activities contribute to climate change.” Source: Chatham House. Infographic by Carbon Brief. View the data here.
This level of agreement is slightly higher than other UK polls have shown. Ipsos MORI’s 2014 Global Trends survey, for example, shows 64 per cent of respondents agreeing that climate change is mostly manmade. A survey by UK Energy Research Centre last year found a “clear majority” of 72 per cent agreeing that the “world’s climate is changing”.
Polling expert Leo Barasi says the Chatham House poll could show a higher level of agreement because of the ordering of the questions in the survey:
“[The question] comes after several questions that have told respondents that humans are causing climate change. Because of that, respondents are probably skewed towards saying they think climate change is caused by humans.”
This is something that Chatham House also notes in their report.
Research also shows people tend towards affirmative responses such as ‘yes’ or ‘agree’ in questionnaires. In Ipsos MORI’s Global Trends survey, for example, 93 per cent of Chinese respondents said that they agree current climate change is caused by humans, but 51 per cent also said they agree that the recent changes are a natural phenomenon.
Looking at the responses from each countries, over 90 per cent of respondents from Brazil, Italy and China agree that humans contribute to climate change. The countries with the lowest level of agreement are the US, Russia and Japan, although these still have more than two-thirds of people agreeing that humans contribute to climate change.
These results are interesting, but comparing between countries should be done with caution. Different nationalities may respond to survey questions, regardless of their subject, in consistently different ways. One nationality may favour the extreme ends of the response scale, while another favours the middle ground, for example. And as the survey was conducted over the Internet, the participants may not be representative of the population as a whole, particularly in the poorer countries.
Gender and age differences
Climate change views vary between different countries, but what about across different ages and genders? A study in the US, for example, found that younger people and females were both more knowledgeable and more concerned about climate change.
The Chatham House survey suggests only small differences on climate change views between age group and gender. Around 85 per cent of 18 to 44-year olds agree that humans contribute to climate change, though this drops to 79 per cent for the 45-65 group.
As with the US study, the Chatham House poll finds that women are slightly more likely to agree (85 per cent) that climate change is caused by humans than men are (81 per cent).
A possible reason why they age and gender differences aren’t as pronounced in the Chatham House research is that it surveys a number of countries. So any differences between age group responses in any one country could be evened out by responses from the rest.
Percentage of respondents by age group and gender who say they agree/disagree with the statement: “Human activities contribute to climate change.” Source: Chatham House. Infographic by Carbon Brief. View the data here.
What action would people take?
The Chatham House survey also asked respondents a series of questions about how they might change their lifestyle to reduce their impact on the environment.
Among respondents who agree climate change is manmade, saving energy in the home and recycling are the two actions most are happy to undertake, with over 90 per cent saying they are likely to take action or are already doing as much as they can.
However, concern on climate change doesn’t necessarily mean people will change all aspects of their lives. A substantial proportion of respondents said they were unlikely to cut down on how much they fly (31 per cent) or reduce how much meat (41 per cent) and dairy (53 per cent) they eat.
Percentage of environmental actions that respondents say they are prepared/not prepared to take, shown separately for respondents who agree/disagree that humans contribute to climate change. Source: Chatham House. Infographic by Carbon Brief. View the data here.
Is disagreement on climate change a barrier?
There are some actions that respondents are willing to take whatever their view of climate change. For example, around a third of respondents that don’t think humans cause climate change say they are already saving energy at home and recycling as much as they can. And over 40 per cent say they are likely to do more.
Around a third also say that they are likely to use their car less and make do with existing products rather than buying new ones.
Some of these actions clearly have additional benefits beyond the environment. Cutting energy use, eschewing the car, and buying fewer new products are probably money savers. Concerns other than climate change, such as air pollution or animal welfare, might provoke environmental actions as well.
The uptake of recycling is high regardless of climate change views, which perhaps shows it has become such a part of normal life in many countries that it isn’t consciously thought of as an environmental choice anymore.
The survey gives a fascinating snapshot of global public opinion on climate change and what people are prepared to do lessen their own impact. Across all the actions, there are respondents that are, or intend to, make changes to reduce their environmental impact, despite their view of climate change or whether that action has a personal benefit.