Common ground on climate change
Every segment is worried about climate change, to a greater or lesser extent.
A majority in all of the seven segments agree that climate change is caused by human activity (although the majority is slimmer for Disengaged Traditionalists).
There is relatively high recognition that the UK is already feeling the effects of climate change (just below 60% overall, which is supported by wider recent UK polling on perceptions of climate impacts), although the two ‘Disengaged’ segments remain somewhat unconvinced.
The majority understands that the threat demands a global, not only a local, response, with at least 60% support for this view in every segment. And most people (average 64%) agree that the UK should be one of the most ambitious countries in the world when it comes to tackling climate change, with at least 50% support for this view across every segment.
Across the segments, there is broad recognition that climate change concerns all of us, regardless of income, background or politics. This points to the fact that there is currently no evidence of a culture war on climate change. A crucial goal for climate advocates across the political spectrum is ensuring that this situation doesn’t change, with disagreement with this view from 26% of Disengaged Traditionalists and 19% of Disengaged Battlers warning us against complacency.
Although public discourse is increasingly raising issues of intersectional environmentalism (that climate change disproportionately affects marginalised groups, particularly Black, indigenous and other ethnic minority people) in the UK and around the world, there is very low understanding among the British public of the relationship between climate change and race. The majority of all segments except Progressive Activists say that the effects of climate change are the same for everyone, regardless of race.
The most agreed-upon benefits of climate action are to protect future generations, create a healthier society and preserve the countryside. Values like fairness (applying stricter environmental rules to everyone), avoiding waste (ending our throwaway culture), unity (coming together in our efforts to protect the environment) and pride (in ‘doing your bit’) are visible across the segments.
Differences on climate change
When it comes to active engagement, Progressive Activists are alone in saying they regularly talk about climate change. They are also the only segment where a majority agrees with both the aims and the tactics of environmental activists, and the only segment that consistently votes on the basis of a party’s climate change policies.
Although all segments say they are concerned about climate change to some extent, the two ‘Disengaged’ segments and Backbone Conservatives are consistently the least worried about any environmental issues. The two ‘Disengaged’ segments are the least likely to engage in low-carbon behaviours. They also tend to feel less pride in ‘doing their bit’ environmentally, feel far fewer emotions of any kind about climate change, and are more likely to say they are busy enough surviving from day to day without having to worry about climate change.
Certain policies – like preventing airport expansion, taxing meat and dairy products, banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, replacing gas boilers and changing UK farming practices – are divisive, with bigger differences, explored in more detail below, emerging between segments. Using the Britain Talks Climate toolkit, a culture war around these divisive but not yet toxic issues can be avoided.
There are three consistently trusted sources of information on climate change across the segments: climate scientists, David Attenborough and environmental charities. The power of relatable, everyday testimony is reinforced by the consistently high trust assigned to ordinary people who have been impacted by floods or fires (i.e. the victims of climate impacts). Farmers appear to be a powerful source of information and trust for Disengaged Traditionalists, also appealing somewhat to other segments.
But overall trust levels are generally low across the segments, suggesting that many of the most visible existing messengers are not connecting well with large parts of the population. The vote of confidence in environmental charities, for example, does not extend to environmental activists, with a clear gap in levels of trust in Extinction Rebellion (XR) and school strikers between Progressive Activists and the rest of the population.
In focus groups, the majority of participants across almost all segments were critical of the tactics of groups such as Extinction Rebellion, including segments who might be considered ‘allies’ of activists (if not activists themselves):
...they definitely need to be aware that there could be irritating people sometimes, maybe stopping them doing their daily job. Yeah, they need to just be careful about not upsetting the general public, rather than taking them along with them.”
...when you hear it is just a lot of, to be slightly disparaging, kids who just make a lot of noise and are being very weird. It puts off a lot of people who might otherwise be paying more attention. Unfortunately, they can be a bit counter to the cause in some ways.”
There is also a lack of confidence, across most of the segments, in friends and family as trustworthy sources of information – but people tend to underestimate the effect of social influence on their behaviour. Given how important peer-to-peer communication is for persuading and engaging on a wide range of issues, this represents an important area for campaigners to focus on (supporting people to talk about climate with their friends and social networks), to help protect against a culture war.
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