REFERENCE 31 Jan, 2020

In Europe and Beyond, Ever More People are Sacrificing for the Climate

And many more say they plan to in 2020. But are the numbers too high?

REFERENCE In Europe and Beyond, Ever More People are Sacrificing for the Climate

It’s not just the case that people are increasingly recognizing the climate crisis as something real and threatening, as previous polls have shown. But many people in Europe, China, and even the US – although in the latter less so – are now doing something about it by curtailing carbon-intensive behaviour in their private lives. European and Chinese citizens deem climate change the biggest challenge facing their polities, while Americans place it second after access to health care. The study revealed that over 65% of people in Europe, the US and China believe that their individual actions can aid the mitigation of climate change. Even more, at least 75%, said that their offspring will suffer in some way from the climate crisis.

This is the dramatic conclusion of a recent European Investment Bank (EIB) survey on climate change in the EU, China and the US – the world’s three biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This poll follows up last year’s, the first (conducted in late 2018), gauging how citizens feel about climate change on the three continents. Concern shot up in almost every category polled. A total of 30,000 respondents participated in October 2019, with a representative panel for each of the 30 countries surveyed.

Take flying, for example: the poll shows that 36% of Europeans maintain that they already travel less by air for vacations out of concern about global warming. (Preliminary figures from the branch for individual months in 2019, such as January to June and September, show air travel as a whole increased in Europe, though less strongly than in previous years.)  Moreover, a full 75% responded that they intended to fly less in the future. The numbers were very high indeed: in China, for example, 94% of those interviewed claimed that they are planning less air travel for holidays; in the US it was 69%.

The most eyepopping results are the increases in private persons’ commitments to do more. US Americans, Chinese people, and EU citizens want to recycle more in 2020, as well as eat less meat, buy more local products, and produce less waste. When it came to flying less, the increase in numbers was less: between 11% (EU) and 15% (US and China) more people said that they’d fly less in the name of climate protection. Still, very impressive.

The survey also showed that 82% expect that the extreme weather caused by global warming will push many people to flee their countries. Even in Europe, according to the study, 24% of those polled said that they themselves could envision moving to another country in the future as an upshot of extreme weather. The fear was most prevalent among 15 to 29 year-olds: 41% are “seriously considering the option of moving abroad.” Understandably, the southern Europeans tend to suffer this fear more acutely than northern Europeans and also say they already feel the repercussions of the climate crisis.

Apparently, 80% of the Chinese people polled believe that climate change is reversable.

The very high numbers caught the eye of some critics: for example Centre for Aviation, part of the Aviation Week Network, a source of market intelligence for the aviation and travel industry. It questioned whether 93% of Chinese will really fly less in 2020. “Just translate that to actual figures,” it wrote on its website, “to be meaningful, assuming ‘less’ means (1) they would otherwise have flown and (2) they will take at least one less flight, that is 1.3 billion less flights in 2020. In effect there would be no air travel at all in China in 2020.”