BBC: People Willing to Sacrifice to Combat Global Warming

The BBC conducted a large-scale survey of 22,000 people in 21 countries and found widespread support for curtailing lifestyle in to fight global warming. Note that this survey was conducted before the news of the extraordinary Arctic summer ice melt, which could have shifted opinion further in the direction of taking action.

Of course, the flaw in this analysis is that no similar survey has been made of corporate executives…..

From the BBC:

Four out of five people indicated they were prepared to change their lifestyle – even in the US and China, the world’s two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide.

Opinion was split over tax rises on oil and coal – 44% against, 50% in favour.

Support would rise if the cash was used to boost efficiency and find new energy sources, the poll suggested.

BBC environment reporter Matt McGrath says the poll suggests that in many countries people are more willing than their governments to contemplate serious changes to their lifestyles to combat global warming.

Overall, 83% of respondents throughout the world agreed that individuals would definitely or probably have to make lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of climate-changing gases they produce.

In almost all countries in Europe, and in the US, most people said they believed the cost of fuels that contribute most to climate change would have to increase.

The only exceptions were Italy and Russia, where significant numbers of people believed that increases in the price of energy would not be needed.

The pollsters suggested that high energy costs in both countries could have put people off the idea of increasing prices even further.

Attitudes to rising energy costs in Asia and Africa were more varied.

Large majorities in China said higher energy costs were necessary – although the BBC’s Dan Griffiths, in Beijing, pointed out that people interviewed over the telephone were unlikely to contradict official policy.

In South Korea and India, the majorities in favour of higher prices were much smaller.

And in Nigeria, 52% of the respondents said they did not think higher fuel costs would be necessary to combat global warming.

Opinions were divided on proposals to increase taxes on fossil fuels.

Worldwide, 50% are in favour and 44% are opposed.

The Chinese are the most enthusiastic when it comes to energy taxes – 85% of those polled saying they were in favour, 24 percentage points more than in the next most-supportive countries.

In the rest of the world, narrow majorities – and sometimes minorities – favoured higher energy taxes.

However, when people opposed to energy taxes were asked whether their opinion would change if the revenue from the taxes were used to increase energy efficiency or develop cleaner fuel, large majorities in every country were in favour of higher taxes.

And when those opposed to higher taxes were asked whether they would change their minds if other taxes were reduced in order to keep their total tax burden the same, the survey again discovered large majorities in every country in favoured of higher green taxes.

“This poll clearly shows that people are much more ready to endure their share of the burden than most politicians grant,” said Doug Miller, director of Globescan, the polling company that conducted the survey on behalf of the BBC.

Globescan interviewed 22,182 people in the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United States.

Interviews were conducted face-to-face or by telephone between 29 May 29 and 26 July 2007.

The detailed survey results are here.

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    There are some obvious reasons not to trust polls of this nature.

    One, humans avoid social pain. When somebody comes to them and polls them about any specific social ill, the respondent generally assumes that the pollster favors action on the issue, and the aggregate responses will be biased towards favoring more action, just to avoid the social pain of disagreeing with somebody.

    Two, if you threw out realistic numbers, the supermajority would evaporate. “Higher energy taxes” is totally vague relative to the enormity of the problem. Would that be $10 per year, or $10 extra for gas every week?

    Three, “support would rise if the cash was used to boost efficiency” is meaningless. People have seen far too many instances of governments promising to tax A “but revenues will ONLY be spent on improving pressing social issue B” (cig taxes come to mind). Saying you wish the world to change in a certain way is a far cry from supporting actual implementation of the policy, which is subject to disinformation, corruption, and credibility issues on the part of the agent.

  2. Yves Smith

    I am the first to agree that survey findings are often dubious, particularly when asking about how people want to spend their money. However, there has been an assumption among the media and politicians that increasing energy taxes (certainly in the US) is a non-starter because it would be too unpopular. This survey suggests otherwise.

    The problem, in my mind, is lack of leadership. Heads of state are no longer leaders but politicians. Aside from Bush playing the war/security card, they seem unwilling to do much to shape public opinion. Too many top figures in public life have their strategies driven by the findings of polls, rather than trying to shape the debate so as to influence poll results. You see that particularly in the US with the decline and co-opting of the left. How did they permit, for example, “liberal” to become a pejorative?

    So perversely, this poll give me hope simply because it might change the thinking and behavior of politicians. It is a necessary, but far from sufficient condition for getting new rules put in place.

    The public once responded to calls to sacrifice. Look at World War II. Global warming is an even bigger, but less conventional threat.

    What makes me despair, however, is the manipulation of mass psychology as depicted brilliantly and disturbingly in the BBC documentary, “The Century of the Self.” It is required viewing. It shows, for example, that Reagan and Thatcher were in fact quite consciously responding to new consumerist trends, and they played on and reinforced them. And those same developments have neutered the left.

    I’m not certain we can re-instill a sense of the importance of the good of the commons.

  3. minka

    This is a silly survey, but not because “humans avoid pain”.

    It’s a silly survey because all the momentum and utility functions of global capitalism are galloping towards ever increasing environmental degradation and there are no globally effective mechanisms to restrain this. None. Nada. Zilch.

    Only after the global economy is brought to its knees and then some will there be any realistic mechanism even proposed.

    It’s rather like proposing regulating subprime before the crisis – out of the question.

    When the system falls apart, it may be possible to put it together in a new way. Until then, damage here we come.

  4. Anonymous

    Take these survey results with a large grain of salt. The responders are basically making New Year’s resolutions. For the most part, this kind of support is a mile wide and an inch deep, and evaporates on contact with reality.

    The price of oil today is the equivalent of the 2003 price plus a 200% tax. People haven’t reduced their driving, or their use of heating oil or air conditioning, in any significant way. If higher taxes on fossil fuels would motivate people to change their lifestyle, why haven’t they done so already?

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