Majority of people in the UK believe the climate crisis will have a bigger impact on humanity then the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey has found.
The Global Future thinktank published the results of the poll, carried out in conjunction with the University of York, as the COP26 conference gets underway in Glasgow this week.
The study into “eco-anxiety” revealed that overall, 78 per cent of people reported some level of fear about the climate emergency, with some 41 per cent reporting being very much or extremely fearful.
Concern about global warming is almost as common among older and working-class people as it is among the young or middle-classes, the survey showed, although there were some regional disparities.
Nearly half (43 per cent) of people living in London, the east and southeast of England reported high levels of fear regarding climate change, compared to 38 per cent of those living in the north and the midlands.
The survey also revealed differences between the levels of eco-anxiety felt by men and women. Women remain significantly more anxious about climate change (45 per cent) than men (36 per cent), and are more likely to change their behaviour to help fight environmental decline.
Some 40 per cent of women say they have altered the way they buy and eat food to combat climate change compared to 27 per cent of men. When asked if people changed the way they buy clothes, the results were similar, with almost 34 per cent of women saying they have compared to 16 per cent of men.
Other lifestyle alterations include changing the way people manage their waste, what companies they shop from, the way they travel, who they vote for, and the way they spend their money.
Respondents from the working-class groups were consistently less likely to changes their spending decisions, which the authors think could be due to the lack of material means.
“It would be difficult, for example, to cut down on flights when you afford so few anyway, or to buy organic, wholefood produce when processed, carbon-intensive food products are cheaper,” the report noted.
The authors of the report wrote: “Climate change has been traditionally viewed as a divisive issue that young, metropolitan liberals care about to the frustration of older, more working-class voters in the north.
“Our findings challenge these stereotypes and suggest that, just as the British people were more likely to accept huge changes in their lives in response to the pandemic, they may do the same for the environment.”
The think tank warned that politicians need to “catch up with voters” current hopes and fears about the planet” or risk losing the public’s support.
Kylie Bains, co-founder of Global Future, and Neil Carter, professor of politics at the University of York, jointly wrote in the report: “This report, despite revealing widespread environmental anxiety, offers hope.
“At a time when we are allegedly conquered by division – whether it be identity politics or social unease – this report reveals a surprising and hopeful unity.
“Contrary to stereotypes, eco-anxiety is revealed to be equally strong across a range of demographic groups. Politicians of all parties can no longer afford to dismiss climate change as an issue only important to young or more affluent voters in the south.”