There is widespread support for acting on climate change, according to some canvassing by Ipsos Mori. But support for climate policy is rather fragile. People are in favour until it affects them, and then it gets less positive. We’d much rather that other people make changes.
Last year Ipsos asked over 2,800 adults around the UK if they supported or opposed a variety of climate policies. In the abstract, there was majority support for range of different policies:
Apart from meat and dairy, which remains too big an ask for most, people are in favour of climate policies. Among those we could be pursuing are frequent flyer levies, the phase out of gas boilers, and even low traffic neighbourhoods.
However, this is easy to say. When Ipsos rephrased the question and added personal implications, the results were different. Would people still support a policy if it limited their right to fly or drive? Maybe not quite so much.
The majorities evaporate as soon as people realise it will affect them. Everything becomes politically trickier. Support dropped even lower when people were asked if they were prepared to pay more.
This isn’t surprising. I’d be no different. The moment we personalise something and put ourselves in the picture, questions arise. We want to protect our freedoms and our right to choose. “The public is generally concerned about climate change, and see it as an important issue,” say Ipsos, “but that concern is not sufficient on its own for people to support net zero policies unwaveringly.”
It’s a good reminder that how we communicate sustainability is important. It’s not enough to appeal to people to do the ‘right thing’, or make sacrifices. We should be emphasising co-benefits and laying out a vision for a better future, not an impoverished one. People need more reasons to do something, beyond concern for the environment. “Communication needs to capitalise on the additional benefits of climate action that resonate with the public. These include health, safety, fairness, active travel and job creation benefits.”
Ipsos’ Net Zero Living report has more information about the arguments that people find convincing, and there is a lot to explore for anyone communicating climate change.