UK consumers are reacting to the financial crisis and a wave of “climategate” email scandals by keeping their wallets in their pockets when given the choice of going green.
The latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) report, launched today by the National Centre for Social Research, reveals a substantial decline in public concern for environmental issues and climate change.
The seminal study of the British public’s attitudes and values, published annually for almost 30 years, pinpoints economic hardship and climate change scepticism as the key factors contributing to the decline in Britain’s collective environmental conscience.
It finds people are increasingly reluctant to make personal financial sacrifices to protect the environment:
• Since 2000 the number of people prepared to pay higher prices to safeguard the environment has fallen, from 43 to 26 per cent. So too has the proportion willing to pay much higher taxes to protect the environment, from 31 to 22 per cent.
• Support has fallen among all income groups. Just over a third (36 per cent) of those in the highest earning households (in 2010 defined as those with household income of over £44,000) would be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment, down from 52 per cent in 2000.
The report also finds that people are more sceptical about the credibility of scientific research on global warming:
• Under half the population (43 per cent) currently considers rising temperatures caused by climate change to be very dangerous for the environment, down from 50 per cent in 2000.
• The least likely to see climate change as dangerous were older people (28 per cent), those with no qualifications (28 per cent) and those on the lowest incomes (37 per cent).
• Over a third (37 per cent) think many claims about environmental threats are exaggerated, up from 24 per cent in 2000.
Although there are some signs of people resisting the green agenda, certain environmentally friendly behaviours are becoming mainstream:
• Recycling appears to have become a social norm, with 86 per cent of people saying they ‘always’ or ‘often’ make the effort to recycle. Furthermore, 39 per cent strive to reduce their home energy use and 32 per cent choose to save or reuse water.
• Other green behaviours demanding more of a lifestyle change, such as cutting personal car use, have yet to translate into popular action. Just one in five (19 per cent) have cut back on driving.
• Over half (52 per cent) of people who think climate change is dangerous for the environment make an effort to reduce their energy use at home, double the rate (21 per cent) found among those who do not think climate change is dangerous.
Alison Park, lead editor of the report at NatCen Social Research, comments: “Climate change doubts and Britain’s recent economic difficulties have combined to downgrade people’s environmental concerns.
“Appetite for protecting the environment declines further where it involves lifestyle change and personal cost.
“If government wants to do more to promote green behaviour it needs to tackle scepticism about the causes of climate change and convince people that it represents a real threat.”