Acting on a daily basis
On a day-to-day basis, the most effective actions against climate change are progressing slowly
Consumption habits are evolving slowly
The actions taken most systematically by the world’s population are sorting waste (48%) and preferring seasonal fruits and vegetables (44%) . Next, but to a lesser extent (less than one third of respondents), come limiting heating or air conditioning, avoiding overpackaged products and prioritizing public transportation.
On the other hand, when tackling the question of individual travel, the consumption of meat or buying second-hand, the levels rarely surpass 20%.
All these actions contribute more or less to fighting global warming, but with very different levels of leverage. Hence, prioritizing seasonal fruits and vegetables saves on transport and greenhouse growing, but the effect on greenhouse gas production is less than is the case with reducing meat consumption. Yet this latter practice is two times less widespread than the former.
Three reasons can be put forward for this:
- These actions do not all require the same level of effort of households, depending on their social and geographic situation, particularly with regard to car trips, often because they are forced to travel this way (distance, no public transportation); but the same could be said for meat consumption, which corresponds to different cultural models according to countries and social backgrounds;
- The climate issue is rivaled by the issue of waste, which ranks first in most countries, and which justifies daily involvement in favor of sorting and against overpackaging;
- Certain actions correspond at least as much to a concern to not waste or to save money as to a concern about the climate: for example heating, which is only identified as a major contributor to climate change by 21%, but which weighs heavy in family budgets.
Some positive developments should nevertheless be highlighted. The consumption of seasonal fruit is gaining ground compared to 2019 (44%, +4 pts). Interest in renewable heating energies is also emerging (19%, +3pts compared to 2019). Progress can be noted in terms of individual travel (car, plane) in the past two years, but a slight modification in items between 2020 and 2021 calls for prudence.
On the other hand, contrary to what can be seen in large towns, everyday use of bikes, on a planetary scale or on the level of an individual country like France, is not progressing (17%). Another step backwards: meat consumption does not seem to be dropping, as consumers themselves admit.
Difficulty in identifying what is really harming the climate
This gap between the urgency felt about the climate and everyday actions that are ultimately not very effective is therefore partly based on a lack of information about the causes of climate change, whereas individuals are not aware of being ill-informed. Thus 71% of citizen-consumers feel that they know what they can do on their own level to combat climate change. 23% even have this impression absolutely, notably among young people.
In the 2020 study, it was stated that CO2 emissions, for example, were only mentioned by 62% as a cause of climate change, whereas inaccurate factors such as heat production or the hole in the ozone layer were still mentioned respectively by 43% and 32%. In 2021, we see that for the very large majority of the public, CO2 emissions are primarily due to industry, fossil-fuel-fired power plants, deforestation and transport, i.e. in the case of the first three, factors on which consumers don’t have a direct influence. Heating, as we have seen, appears to be of lesser importance on the other hand.
But most notably there are two sectors that are played down considerably: agriculture and digital tech, whose emissions depend directly, at least partly, on consumption habits and life styles. These two sectors do not seem to be connected to the climate question. This perhaps explains why consuming less meat is not progressing, aside from more complex cultural and sociological factors.
Climate skepticism is an obstacle to everyday action
There is sometimes a tendency to think that climate skepticism is an outdated phenomenon with no real influence on behavior, now that the planet is confronted with undeniable signs of climate change. Difficulties in accepting environmental constraints are said to be due solely to the social situation of citizen-consumers.
However, besides the fact, as we have seen, that climate skepticism is not really decreasing on an international scale, this outlook does have an impact on everyday behavior. Whereas 45% of climate change believers have already committed to at least 4 actions on an individual level, this is only the case for 29% of climate skeptics. 28% of them take no action at all, 48% in the case of those (9%) who deny the existence of climate change. As we saw earlier, climate skepticism skews the perceived reality of changes in the climate. So it logically encourages people to reject a change in life style: only 32% of skeptics are considering it as opposed to 62% of those who are convinced, although it would be wrong to describe these individuals as totally indifferent to the environment.
Limited tolerance to constraints in relation to travel modes, particularly in Europe
On the one hand, governments are being called on to take action and pass legislation. On the other, the level of acceptability of the conceivable measures remains low when their impact on citizens is very restrictive.
On a global scale, measures targeting cars are the ones with the lowest acceptability rating, admittedly often above 50%, but rarely above 60% (63% for the ecotax on polluting vehicles). In other words, fairly far from the consensus thresholds necessary for them to be adopted by governments without obstruction.
But it is on the European and North American scale that reluctance appears to be strongest. A look at the rate of car use according to continents is enough to explain these results. 75% of Europeans and 85% of North Americans use their car at least several times a week, as opposed to 62% of Asians and 44% of South Americans.
On a global scale, measures concerning cars are logically judged as less acceptable by people who use them every day or almost, but the level of car dependency does not influence answers as much as expected. A majority of daily drivers think that limiting access to city centers is acceptable (53%), and the same for a ban on gasoline or diesel cars (55%).
The situation in Europe is very different since there are many regular drivers there and they are very reluctant about any measures penalizing cars. In relation to the ban on gasoline or diesel cars, for example, Europeans are particularly unenthusiastic (46% vs 58% worldwide), whereas this measure is on the European Green Deal agenda (but do they know that?). The idea of urban toll booths is also very unpopular there (34%) along with limiting access to urban centers to hybrid or electric cars, supported by only 44%.
Likewise, measures with a financial impact are not well accepted: an increase in taxes on household waste or a tax on air tickets are only acceptable at a level of 51% and 48% respectively. Note also, and quite logically, that financially restrictive measures such as the carbon tax are better accepted by people on high incomes. But what is once again striking is the greater European resistance to this tax (50% c.f. 52% globally in 2020).
There is one exception however: the ecotax on polluting cars has become a social norm and is accepted by 63% (but 54% in Europe…). Two other measures seem to be well accepted everywhere: a ban on short-haul flights when the train is an alternative (65%) and obliging homeowners to insulate their home (61%).
(1) Waste sorting is a very western practice: 69% of Europeans and 55% of North Americans do it systematically, as opposed to only 39% in Asia and 26% in Africa / Middle East. On the American continent, the seasonality of fruits and vegetables is a mobilizing factor in the southern countries (57%), a lot less so in the north (Canada and USA): 33%.