Friday, December 15, 2006

Who is the greenest of us all?

Who would you think? The old? The young?? Sun readers? Independent readers?

The answer is not what you'd expect. Below i examine three separate polls which give differing answers, but all agree on one thing - we don't do enough.

The Electricity Policy Research Group (EPRG) at the University of Cambridge commissioned YouGov to survey 1000 UK residents on issues ranging from the future of the electricity supply to their current purchasing decisions.

While climate change concerns are voiced most strongly among the young, Liberal Democrat voters and Guardian/Independent readers, these attitudes are not translated into personal action.

The poll showed, for example, that Guardian/Independent readers are no more likely to have taken any specific energy saving actions than tabloid readers, and are actually less likely to have insulated their homes.

Older people who are least concerned with climate change are also far more likely to have taken concrete action to save energy, including buying energy efficient light bulbs, insulating their homes and lowering their thermostats.

I think this is due to the fact that the old, and the poorer, are more likely to insulate due to the need to cut bills.

The survey revealed that while half of the respondents had changed electric or gas suppliers in the past five years, 90% cited reasons of price and just 4% claimed greener energy as the reason they switched.

The EPRG report ranked environment and fuel prices among the top ten issues facing the UK and placed climate change as the top environmental concern.

But another poll, conducted by YouGov two months ago of 2,455 adults, found those living in the West Midlands were the least likely to be green, whereas people in Yorkshire were most likely to engage in eco-friendly activities. The Green Net Apitude (GNA) scale was conceived by npower and Adrian White, a psychologist from the University of Leicester.

"People who are able to delay gratification - to invest in their future - are much more likely to make green choices," said White. "For example teachers have a high GNA score compared to estate agents who may be working in a culture of short-term commission."

This one found that, "perhaps surprisingly", drivers of gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were more inclined to recycle or use energy-efficient light bulbs than drivers of small "greener" cars.

The poll discovered significant support for investing in renewable energy, with over two-thirds of respondents saying they would support wind farms even if situated in their own locality.

Roughly half of the people surveyed by Cambridge supported the building of new nuclear power stations, provided they were based on existing sites. Surprisingly, one-third supported the establishment of new sites around the country.

Coal-power was considered the least popular energy option, although opinions improved when those surveyed learnt more about developments in carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies.

But yet another poll, an 'old Europe'-wide Harris poll published by the Financial Times last month, found 85% in favour of their governments spending more on renewable energy. In France and Spain, more than 90% backed increased investment in renewables.

In Europe, the debate on global warming is over. Even in the UK, the most sceptical country, 77% believe human activity is contributing to climate change, and in the other four countries polled the proportion is close to 90%.

There is "significant resistance" to the idea of building more nuclear power stations across old Europe. Only 30% "strongly or somewhat" support building new nuclear plants, while 46% oppose it.

However, when asked about costs, just 5% say they would pay over a week's wages to fight global warming, and 33% wouldn't pay anything.

Dr David Reiner, Course Director of the MPhil in Technology Policy at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge and author of the Cambridge report, said: “There is a real engagement among the British public on questions of energy and environment, particularly over climate change. There is a willingness to support government policies, but even those groups that are the strongest supporters of policy action do not translate this support into their personal energy saving behaviour. They show a clear divergence between their views as citizens and their actions as consumers.”

So although all three polls disagree on exactly what we do, they all agree that we care, but we don't do enough.

My conclusion? The government should just make it harder and harder for us to conduct wasteful and polluting activities by removing that element of choice.

Ban wasteful and inefficient goods, and tax heavily climate-harming actions like air flights.

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