British Social Attitudes report shows few people concerned about climate change

By agency reporter
July 16, 2018

Most British people believe that climate change is happening, but few are very worried about it and only a minority feel very responsible to reduce it, according to the latest British Social Attitudes report.

The findings, from the European Social Survey (ESS),  show that 93 per cent of people acknowledge that the world’s climate is at least probably changing. Only 39 per cent say they have given climate change ‘a great deal’ or ‘a lot’ of thought. 21 per cent say they have given it very little thought or no thought at all.

Younger and more educated people are more convinced that climate change exists, however even among graduates and 18 to 34 year olds, only two-thirds (68 per cent and 66 per cent)respectively) are definite that climate change is happening. In contrast, only half (50 per cent) of over 65s and those educated to GCSE level or below think that the world’s climate is definitely changing.

A generational divide in attitudes is also reflected in the fact that younger age groups are more likely to be worried about climate change, with 31 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 reporting that they are ‘extremely worried’ or ‘very worried’ compared to 24 per cent of those aged 35 to 64 and 19 per cent of those aged 65 and over.

Equally, graduates express a greater concern about climate change, with 35 per cent saying they are either ‘extremely worried’ or ‘very worried’, compared to 20 per cent of those with GCSE or lower qualifications.

Thirty six per cent of respondents say that climate change is mainly or entirely caused by human activity. A majority of people (53 per cent) blame human activity and natural causes equally for climate change, with a vast majority (95 per cent) thinking that climate change is at least in part caused by human activity.

This is almost on par with the amount of people who believe that climate change is at least partly due to natural processes (93 per cent). Only two per cent claim that climate change is definitely not happening. 

Younger people (46 per cent) are more likely than those over the age of 65 (27 per cent) to think climate change is entirely or mainly due to human activity. 48 per cent of graduates also hold this view compared to just 27 per cent of those educated to GCSE level or below.

Looking at personal responsibility to reduce climate change on a scale of 0-10, the overall average score given by respondents is 6.0. Less than 10 per cent give a score of two or less and 15 per cent a score of  nine or 10, while the largest segment of people chose an intermediate score, suggesting a moderate personal responsibility to reduce climate change.

When asked how likely it is that limiting one’s own energy use would help reduce climate change, the average score is 4.4, illustrating a low degree of confidence in personal efficacy. The youngest age group, rather than doing the most, are the least likely to often (or very often or always) do things to save energy (71 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 vs 77 per cent of those aged 35 to 64 vs 75 per cent of over 65s).

Respondents think that lots of people limiting their energy use will have a stronger effect on climate change reduction than just one person, giving an average score of 5.8 for collective ability compared with 4.4 on the same 0-10 scale for personal ability. Nevertheless it is worth noting that the gap between personal ability and collective ability to reduce climate change is not significantly wider.

Furthermore, people are rather pessimistic about the likelihood that many people will actually reduce their energy use, giving this possibility an average score of 3.8. Equally, they have little hope that governments in enough countries will take action as indicated by an average score of 4.3 on the same scale.

The findings show significant differences in attitudes towards climate change by party identification;  Liberal Democrats (35 per cent) and Labour (29 per cent) supporters display moderate levels of concern, Conservatives (18 per cent) and UKIP supporters (13 per cent) are  less worried. Although the base is small and so should be treated with caution, Green Party supporters are the most concerned (52 per cent).

In addition, climate change worries differ among those who voted leave (17 per cent) and those who voted remain (32 per cent) in the Brexit referendum. This reflects a more fundamental divide over the existence of climate change. 71 per cent of Remain voters think that climate change is definitely happening, in stark contrast to 53 per cent of Leave voters.

* Read British Social Attitudes chapter on climate change here

* NatCen


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