Almost seven in 10 people say Britain’s record heatwave has convinced them more needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis, but many remain unpersuaded to take personal action, according to a new poll.
The exclusive Savanta survey for The independent reveals that people are looking to the government to take action, while fewer said the heatwave had persuaded them to change their own behavior in terms of eating less meat and dairy, flying less or investing in electric cars and heat pumps – all of which reduce emissions and thus global warming.
69 percent of the 2,315 respondents said they were either significantly or somewhat more convinced that the country needed to do more to tackle climate change, which is fueling longer, hotter and more frequent heat waves. The same proportion said that the climate crisis should be one of the government’s top priorities.
The proportion of people who said the heatwave had made them more convinced that Britain needed to step up its climate action was similar across different socio-economic groups, suggesting that the experience of the heatwave was an eye-opener for many Britons.
Politicians and behavioral experts say it is not surprising that people are looking to the government for action, with opposition MPs and campaigners criticizing Britain’s leaders for not going far enough.
Thermometers in Coningsby, Lincolnshire hit 40.3C, setting a new all-time UK temperature record, and it is estimated that almost 1,000 excess deaths could be recorded due to the heat from 17 to 19 July.
The survey results found some proportional differences along gender, regional and political lines. Seventy-five percent of women said they were more convinced that more action is needed compared to 63 percent of men. London, which saw 34 grass fires tear through homes and businesses last week, was the region with the highest proportion at 78 per cent, while Northern Ireland had the lowest at 55 per cent.
When it came to personal action, 30 percent of respondents said the heat wave had persuaded them to eat less meat, 32 percent were persuaded to fly less and 36 percent said the heat had persuaded them to invest in an electric car.
“People are right to look to government for leadership,” said Zac Goldsmith, the international environment minister. “There is only so much individuals can do, but governments set the rules within which the market operates, and unless and until the market is made to recognize the risks of environmental damage and the value of a healthy planet, we will continue to move rapidly in the wrong direction .”
Conservative leaders Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have been widely criticized by environmentalists and climate campaigners for not giving the crisis enough prominence in their campaigns to become Britain’s next prime minister.
“People rightly expect the government to lead the way on the climate crisis, but too often this government is doing far too little while expecting individuals to pick up the slack,” said Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
“More than ever before, the public want politicians to take real action to stop climate change, but all they get from Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak is weak rhetoric and backward-looking ideas.”
Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer said the Conservatives were “out of touch” with the British public about the climate crisis and that the government urgently needed to invest in insulating people’s homes and speeding up the roll-out of renewable energy.
Richard Carmichael, a psychologist and behavioral expert for several government-funded projects related to consumers and net zero, said he was optimistic about the proportion of people who said they had been persuaded to invest in an electric car or invest in a heat pump – 23 per cents.
“That’s enough really,” he said. “The market is reacting.”
Dr Carmichael said Government policy and business had a role to play in making action easier, fairer and less expensive. Making others’ green decisions more visible to help the behavior catch on more quickly was also important, he said, pointing to the green flash on electric vehicle license plates as a good example.
There are valid reasons why people might not be persuaded to buy heat pumps or fly less, he said. The former can be too expensive, and even before the pandemic, around half of the English population didn’t fly in 2018, so asking those people to fly less when there are some frequent flights might seem unfair, he explained.
The government’s net zero strategy says it will “work around consumer choice”, meaning no one will be required to rip out an existing boiler or scrap their current car.
Cameron Smith, a spokesman for the Conservative Environment Network, said a conservative approach that sets bold targets to drive private investment will reduce the cost of insulation, heat pumps and electric cars, so the green option is not only the cheapest but the best.
“That’s how we can reduce our emissions and get people with us,” he said. “If you tried to tackle climate change by depriving people of meat, traveling or banning boilers, public will to act would dissolve.”
A UK government spokesman said Britain was “leading the world on climate change”, cutting emissions by 44 per cent since 1990 and growing its economy – “which is more than any other G7 country”.
“At the same time, we have increased the amount of renewable energy connected to the grid, increasing by 500 per cent since 2010, and our UK energy security strategy will put the UK at the forefront of the global energy revolution,” the spokesman. added.