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Climate inaction undermines public support for lifestyle changes

04 Jul 2024 3 minute read
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New research into the public perception of climate change initiatives finds that whilst there is strong support for low-carbon lifestyles, inaction is limiting public beliefs that a low-carbon future is possible.

The new study by the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations found that political and media debate that justifies inadequate mitigation efforts for climate change – termed ‘discourses of delay’ – is drastically impacting public perception in the UK.

Dr Catherine Cherry, Cardiff University’s School of Psychology and the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations, said: “With global temperatures continuing to rise, limiting warming to as close to 1.5°C as possible represents an enormous challenge, requiring a wholescale transformation across every sector of society. We urgently need to find new ways of living.

“Arguments that seek to delay climate action and justify inadequate mitigation efforts, often termed ‘discourses of delay’, are widespread within political and media debate on climate change.”


The researchers set out to understand public perception of climate action, engaging with members of the public across Manchester, Aberdeen and the South-West of England, between December 2020 and January 2021.

They found that the public currently have overconfidence in current actions, influenced by long-standing environmental messages – leading them to believe that small personal actions are sufficient and provides false reassurance.

The public was also found to be defensive over radical change, including reduced meat consumption or flying less, leading to opposition to the most radical lifestyle changes, fuelled by concerns over personal freedom and fairness.

A sense of hopelessness was also found, convincing individuals that meaningful change is impossible.

Dr Cherry added: “We found that despite strong public support for many low-carbon lifestyle strategies, delay and inaction are limiting beliefs that a fair, low-carbon future is even possible.

“We argue that countering these narratives, and the defensive responses they invoke, is essential for achieving meaningful public action on climate change.”

The researchers call for a new approach to public engagement that goes beyond simple information provision.

“We suggest involving the public in co-creating positive and fair visions of a sustainable future through deliberative processes like Citizens’ Assemblies. This could help build a public mandate for climate policies and foster a sense of climate citizenship, weakening the discourse of delay.

“This research, and research like this, is vital in an ever-changing and fast-moving media and political landscape. We need to understand public opinion on a topic as crucial as sustainable futures more generally, but this is especially compounded during elections and political campaigning.

“By understanding how ‘discourses of delay’ impact the public’s investment in a more sustainable future, we can then focus on messaging from political and media debate to ensure that everyone – from politicians to the general public – invest in climate action,” added Dr Cherry.

The research, Discourses of climate inaction undermine public support for 1.5 °C lifestyles, was published in Global Environmental Change.

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11 days ago

Nowhere in climate science, least of all the IPCC’s AR6, is there any evidence of an impending climate emergency. It suits governments to pretend there’s an emergency because they can then say there’s no time for debate. There are myriad experts who will explain why the narrative is nonsense, but they’re generally shut down and demonised by a complicit media industry.
Anyone who chooses to believe politicians’ rhetoric should understand that most of them are utterly clueless on this subject…and anyway, most have long-term financial investments so they clearly aren’t that worried.

Why vote
Why vote
11 days ago

The general public is being asked sorry commanded to walk, cycle, and use a different type of car ‘electric’ chaing the way we heat our homes and by locally grown food, when there is no incentive to do so, now more satellites are being launched than in any time in history but that’s OK. Commercial aviation is back up and running to full capacity since the pandemic thats OK, trucks are delivering food supplied from across the globe that’s OK, the senedd spends £350.000 on cars every year to ferry politicians around the country thats OK,and farmers are asked to… Read more »

Pete Cuthbert
Pete Cuthbert
10 days ago
Reply to  Why vote

Whilst understanding your cynicism, I think you are unfair on the scientists. They cannot give you a date when the “world will end” simply because that is not the objective of the science. Their process is to examine the evidence such as the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and put that data into the models of climate operation that they have been slowly developing for years. As more data is collected so the models get better but what their output will be is a range of possibilities with a probability attached. The outputs may be classed as “best case”,… Read more »

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