Britons want to prevent climate change, but favor costly solutions


ONE SIDE EFFECT to host an international climate conference is an outbreak of navel-gazing. As the UN The extravagance in Glasgow is coming to an end, numerous opinion polls and studies have appeared which provide a superbly detailed view of how Britons think about climate change. They reveal a country engaged in the fight against global warming, but unfortunately attracted by the most expensive means of doing so.

Perhaps feeling that they should set a good example for their international guests, the British have taken a firm stand behind the idea that man-made climate change is both real and alarming. A sounder, Ipsos MORI, finds that 81% believe an environmental disaster is looming unless habits change quickly. The views of older people have changed dramatically. A series of polls for the Ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reveals that 80% of people over 64 are now concerned about climate change, up from 56% in 2012.

The British have a lot on their mind these days, with Brexit, covid-19 and inflation. It doesn’t seem to matter. While the 2007-08 financial crisis was followed by a multi-year recession due to climate change, the coronavirus pandemic only wiped out interest briefly (see graph). Lorraine Whitmarsh of the University of Bath suggested a decade ago that people have a “limited reservoir of worry” and that economic concerns have supplanted environmental concerns. She now believes that climate change has become a central concern that cannot be dismissed from the pool.

What to do about it, however? Unsurprisingly, the British like climate change mitigation policies in the abstract and less when presented with the likely costs of those policies. But if they have to pay, they would prefer to do so, with a slight margin, through general taxation. Onward, a think tank, reported on Nov. 8 that 50% of people were willing to pay higher taxes to reduce carbon emissions, while 46% would pay higher prices for goods. Low wages were particularly opposed to higher prices.

Politicians amplify this point of view. Robert Halfon, the curator deputy for Harlow, for a decade successfully campaigned against any increase in fuel taxes. This likely contributed to the fact that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fell only 2% between 2010 and 2019, even as emissions from all sources fell by 26%. Mr. Halfon is not a climate change denier (“I believe in everything,” he says). And it supports subsidies for electric vehicles. It simply opposes attempts to reduce demand by raising prices.

The British are even more inclined to ban things. Another poll, in August, found that people would prefer policies that restrict the number of flights they can take and the amount of meat they can eat to policies that increase the price of the flight and the price of the flight. meat. Sir John Curtice, a psephologist at the University of Strathclyde, and others have found that 44% are in favor of a ban on powerful vacuum cleaners. The proportion rose to 64% following an online discussion on the issue.

Economists generally favor market-based interventions such as carbon taxes and scorn measures such as electric car subsidies because of their inefficiency (some of the money goes to people who would have bought it anyway. electric cars). But ordinary Brits strongly disagree. Will Tanner of Onward suggests that this is because they believe that the cost of tackling global warming should be borne by society as a whole, and general taxation seems to them a good way to achieve this. The blanket bans also likely hit a nation overly fond of standing in line as being fair.

This enthusiasm for inefficient ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions means Britain will end up spending far more than it needs to. It’s frustrating. But polls also suggest the British are in a sense ahead of their rulers. Adaptation to climate change has for years been the poor relation of mitigation. It is less discussed and often seen as something poorer countries need to do. Speaking at a session on adaptation in Glasgow on November 8, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK trade secretary, touted a fund to help Asian countries but said nothing about hers.

People seem to have noticed it and are not happy. End of 2020 Ipsos MORI surveyed 30 rich and middle-income countries for energy society EDF. He revealed that only 30% of Britons believe their government has taken action to reduce the effects of climate change on their homes, such as building dams, the second lowest proportion of any country after Italy. Politicians might call this judgment unfair. It would be better if they tried to change people’s minds by their actions.

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This article appeared in the Great Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Mustn’t grumble”

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