People are full of contradictions. We find ourselves wrestling with competing views held simultaneously. We sometimes act in ways out-of-step step with our best intentions.
This matters because the small choices that we make every day impact the future of our fragile planet. The British public need to shed their ‘do as I say, not as I do’ attitude to protecting the environment, and our institutions must drive behavioural change with urgency.
The findings of the UK supplement to the 21st annual Edelman Trust Barometer – the largest survey of institutional trust in the world – exposes the scale of the challenge. In the year when the UK holds the presidency of the G7 and hosts COP26, less than a third of the British public think government and business are doing enough to address climate change.
It is a cause of genuine anxiety in people’s minds. Strikingly, people are more worried about climate change, than they are about contracting COVID-19.
The pandemic has made people realise how vulnerable the world around us is. It’s raised our consciousness and two thirds of people say that tackling climate change is more important than ever before. But there is a lack of hope. Just a third of people say they think that climate change will improve in their lifetime.
So, who’s responsibility is it to do something about it? The British public see responsibility as shared. Critically they don’t think it just falls to government and business.
They believe that they have personal responsibility, the ability to act and the licence to do so. Over six in ten say ‘it is my responsibility to take action to tackle climate change’ and ‘I understand how I can personally contribute to tackling climate change’.
But here’s the rub. The gap between the actions the public say that individuals could take to have an impact on climate change and the actions they themselves are prepared to take is stark. The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality is holding progress back.
For instance, 64% of Brits say that using an electric car, rather than a petrol car, would have an impact in addressing climate change. However, only 34% of them would be prepared to or already use an electric car, rather than a petrol car. That’s a massive 30-point gap.
You might put this down to the high perceived costs and concerns about convenience, but this wouldn’t explain the 27-point gap we see when it comes to people jetting off for a vacation. 61% say that going on fewer international holidays to reduce air travel would have an impact on addressing climate change, and yet only 34% say they would go on fewer international holidays to reduce their air travel.
Of the fourteen individual actions to reduce climate impact that we explored in our study, thirteen see a double-digit gulf between what people thought would make a difference and what they would actually be prepared to do, or already do.
The one action that sees a single-digit gap was around reducing plastic waste – with 78% saying reducing plastic waste would help address climate change and 70% saying they would be prepared to or are already reducing their plastic waste.
This is in no small part a consequence of the so-called Attenborough effect driving environmental awareness and action on plastics. It suggests considerable opportunity for public education and pop culture movements to agitate the levers that will best impact climate change.
Of course businesses and governments have to make and deliver on high-level commitments at international summits, but they have to think bottom-up too. They have to story-tell in a way that is accessible and resonates, and not blind with facts, figures and technical terms that people can’t relate to the everyday things that they can do.
It is only by achieving behaviour change that we can hope to tackle climate change. We all have our part to play and there isn’t much time at all.