Worries over money overtake climate change concerns

Liz Emerson, IF Co-founder, investigates new Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey data on worries about climate change and argues that the government should be doing much more to reduce the cost of living through a green lens.

Money worries

A recent ONS survey on worries about climate change found that, when asked about a range of issues, the rising cost of living was the main concern (79%) but climate change came second (74%).

For many, the ability to put food on the table or to heat a home today, is overtaking concerns about the future. As Becca Briggs from the ONS comments, “Our analysis shows that adults are still just as worried about climate change as they were a year ago, but fewer say they have made lifestyle changes to help tackle its effects. It’s likely that the cost of making such changes is a factor, particularly as our analysis shows people are more focused on worries resulting from the rising costs of living”.

Of those people (9% of adults), who said that they were not at all worried or somewhat, unworried about climate change, the most common reason given by over half (55%) of these groups was that there were more urgent priorities to be worried about (up from 34% compared to around a year ago).

Worrying trend

Of the over-16s surveyed, 75% said that they made a lot or some lifestyle changes to help tackle climate change, but sadly that is down on the year before, (81%). Meanwhile, 25% of respondents said they had made no changes at all, compared with 19% a year ago.

The cost-of-living crisis facing UK residents could not be happening at a worse time for the climate, and the fault must rest to some degree with policymakers, who have chosen not to champion the swift transition to a renewable economy. One example, is the UK government’s addiction to domestic flying. A recent Intergenerational Foundation report, entitled Trains Over Planes, argues that the UK government has missed a trick by focusing on expanding domestic aviation, rather than following the French lead, of banning domestic flights where there is a rail equivalent.

The research argues that if travel times from city-centre to city-centre were compared instead of airport-to-airport, then train travel is marginally slower than taking the plane, leaving ticket prices as the sole barrier to the wholesale shift to domestic rail. The government could, and should, help train companies to reduce ticket prices and that could be easily solved by removing the fossil fuel subsidies given to airlines and passing them over to the rail industry instead. In essence, there are ways to reduce the cost of living and combat climate change, but the political will to take on big business must be there.

Temperature increase

According to the survey, 75% of adults cited rising UK temperatures as the biggest impact of climate change that adults expected to experience by 2030. In April 2022, before the summer heatwaves, 62% of adults gave this answer.

This is likely due to the very high temperatures experienced in the UK over the summer. In short, the public know that climate change is here, but they lack the money to make better environmental decisions for themselves and for the future.

Education matters

Education does matter. According to the survey data, people with a degree or equivalent qualification are more likely to say they are worried about climate change. Of those with a degree of equivalent qualification, 83% stated their concern, compared to 71% of those with an education below degree level and 62% for those with no qualifications.

COP27 cop-out

It is therefore disappointing that our latest Prime Minister, while ruling out fracking (which is to be welcomed), has chosen to withdraw from attending COP27 and backtracked on supporting onshore wind.

For our children and grandchildren

The social contract, as Burke pointed out in the 1790s, is between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. We are therefore failing future generations on intergenerational fairness grounds if we keep reeling from crisis to crisis today instead of setting the foundations for tomorrow. That means governments leading the way towards a sustainable future.

As the Warm This Winter campaign, which IF supports, makes plain, the government should be helping people to insulate their homes and encouraging a shift to renewable energy. Instead, it is business as usual, while the voices of future generations are once again ignored.

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