Britons care more about the environment than politicians realise


10:06 am - June 25th 2012

by Leo Barasi    


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Other than the seriously environmentally attentive, few people will have noticed anything going on with the Rio+20 conference .

The latest Mori issues index shows just 3% identifying green problems as among the main issues facing Britain – compared with 58% choosing the economy (worth remembering that that 42% didn’t choose that either).

So Cameron was probably playing it safe by not going. But despite all that, public opinion was actually quite receptive to the UK playing a major part in the negotiations at Rio.

It’s a further step in the logic that had George Osborne say last year “we are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers”. Barely more than half government MPs now think that the Coalition is living up to Cameron’s pledge that it would be the “the greenest government ever”:

A GlobeScan poll puts the UK at the bottom of the table of enthusiasm for “international commitments to reduce global poverty in ways that improve the environment”, but still finds that only 8% are against any commitment. Despite the lack of media attention on the conference, nearly half said they want the UK to play a leadership role in making ambitious commitments:

In itself we can’t conclude from this that UK leadership at the conference would have been wildly popular at home. The question above leaves out the arguments against a major international commitment, like the financial costs for developed countries, which in reality would have an effect on opinion.

We can get some help from a recent YouGov poll on another conflict between biodiversity and economic interests: the debate about restrictions on commercial fishing.

The results suggest that opinion is strongly in favour on fishing bans to protect the most endangered species, and evenly split on draconian measures to help all fish stocks, like a temporary ban on all commercial fishing in EU waters.

So while the polling isn’t definitive, there does look to be an unmet desire for more action to protect sustainability. It’s not a great surprise that the Prime Minister prioritised the eurozone crisis over biodiversity, but public opinion didn’t make it inevitable.


A longer version is at Noise of the Crowd

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About the author
Leo is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He manages communications for a small policy organisation, and writes about polling and info from public opinion surveys at Noise of the Crowd
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Reader comments


1. Chaise Guevara

Couple of points:

1) You can’t extrapolate from specific questions about fishing policy to general attitude to the environment. Even small changes in poll questions can noticeably affect results; basing claims off *an entirely different question* is just garbage in, garbage out.

2) Should any actual data turn up, you need to bear in mind the possibility of a split between claimed attitudes and behaviour. “X% of consumers say they care about the environment” is nice to hear, but it’s not the same as “X% are prepared to spend more to get environmentally friendly products”, “X% will put up with some inconvenience to reduce their carbon footprint”, or “X% are realistically likely to let green issues be the deciding factor when casting their vote”.

2. I'm Going Back to Bed!

Wrong questions, wrong conclusions!

Nobody says they want to see the environment trashed. Everyine says they want to see action on all sorts of things. However, they are a lot less keen on the action needed once it starts to impact on their life. The fishing example is a good one – lots of people think that there should be restrictions to allow stocks to recover, so far so good… no ask them if they want to pay £7.50 for cod and chips, and you’ll get a resounding “no”.

It’s the actions that matter, not the survey results!

A GlobeScan poll puts the UK at the bottom of the table of enthusiasm for “international commitments to reduce global poverty in ways that improve the environment”

Good.

Actions taken to improve the environment (whatever that is) tend to increase, not reduce, global poverty by impacting on growth and development.

So I’m delighted to hear we are unenthusiastic about such drivel.

4. Chaise Guevara

@ 3 pagar

Uh, based on the OP the survey specifically talked about “international commitments to reduce global poverty in ways that improve the environment”. So whatever the percentage of environmental commitments that exacerbate poverty, they are not the subject of the survey.

Now, it could be that a significant number of people accidentally or deliberately misread the question. But you don’t know that. You can’t just grab a passing statistic and horribly mangle it, then declare it to vindicate your personal position. That goes for you and the OP both.

pagar

Ever hear of the paradigm that you cannot replace a forest with sawmills? Trashing the environment ultimately trashes the economy. Or are you suggesting (as an example) that the fisheries of Newfoundland & the northeast coast of America are both more profitable than ever and employing even more people! Because last time I checked, the way overfished Grand Banks has yet to recover in any meaningful way, and the local fishing villages & towns are slipping even further into ecenomic decline…

There are countless other examples of that simple equation worldwide, throughout history. Do not confuse truimphalist propaganda from those who profit the most in the short term with the truth.

There are also the rotting corpses of previous failed civilisations that ignored their own self inflicted environmental problems scattered around the globe. So the stakes are a lot higher than mere poverty.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 5

“There are also the rotting corpses of previous failed civilisations that ignored their own self inflicted environmental problems scattered around the globe.”

Hang on. Who?

This is the way it should be done, very positive move and diction made by the Britons, it really a must to pay attention to the environment than any other acts. Because the modern word and the science doesn’t seems to be helping the environment. I too agree with this matter.

Chaise, here is a list off the top of my head. You can find more…

Easter island. The chiefs chose to chop down the whole forest to build ever bigger statues to themselves. Without forest cover, erosion of the soil followed, fertility plummeted, starvation and war was the result. The only remains of that civilisation are those statues, and an impoverished remnant biome.

Iceland. Once covered in forest, the viking settlers chopped it down to replace with pasture land and barley fields. At first they did well, but the soil of Iceland is really just fine volcanic ash. Every storm washed more of it into the sea, resulting in a severe population crash. It is only with the importing of food in the modern era that iceland is viable.

Maya civilisation, Yucatan peninsula. A place that endures periodic droughts anyway. Before its collapse, the Maya appeared to be flourishing. Ever bigger temples and cities cropping up everywhere. Even in marginal areas. Then the (in their case) natural drought cycle reasserted itself. They could have survived, but the princes chose to wage war instead of developping more sophisticated irrigation techniques, and agriculture collapsed. Even with better agriculture, the collapse would have only been delayed, as the population would have kept growing.

Mesopotania. The once fertile crescent was a forested paradise. No more.

How only a few of those areas that onced housed civilisations have recovered. Yucatan springs to mind, we didn’t realise there was a civilisation there until we stumbled on the ruins deep in the jungle. The rest, are desert, tundra, rockscapes blah blah, and cannot support much without outside help. How much more of the world is going to experience the same catastrophe this century? Our civilisation is much, much bigger, our population is in the billions…

& bear in mind, this country is a net importer of food, from those degrading areas.

10. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 Dissident

Thanks for the info – although in the case of the Mayans I’d say there’s a difference between fucking up the environment and just not reacting sensibly when the environment goes wrong of its own accord.

exactly chaise, The Maya knew there were problems, but they didn’t react sensibly. Sound familiar?

The mediterranean was once ringed by lush forest and rich soils, a millenia of classical civilisation put paid to that and it still hasnt recovered.

13. Dissident

aah yes Joe
The long dead Roman Empire caused it’s own environmental problems too.

Another of Pagar’s truimphs perchance? After all the Patricians and Emperors did become extremely wealthy. It is recorded so in the surviving scraps of information from that civilisation.

I wonder if today’s company profit statements would survive as long?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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