Britons unwilling to change despite climate threat

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Few people are making significant changes to their lifestyle to counter climate change despite a widespread acceptance of its dangers, according to new research.

A snapshot of attitudes for the Energy Saving Trust found that while 80 per cent of the public believed climate change was affecting Britain, almost half were doing nothing to halt its impact. The Green Barometer, based on polling of 1,192 households in February, found that while many were prepared to do small things such as conserving water while brushing their teeth, most were not prepared to miss out on a foreign holiday or a plasma television.

Forty per cent of people were doing nothing to use less energy, while a further 39 per cent were prepared only to make small changes. Only 4 per cent had made big lifestyle changes.

Strong environmental initiatives were also unwelcome. The public considered strong green measures such as new taxes, road charging and carbon rationing to be less socially acceptable than banning smoking in public or same-sex marriages.

When asked whether they would support a "carbon credit card" that would set a personal pollution limit - yet allow the purchase of carbon credits from others - 42 per cent ruled the idea out, 28 per cent said probably not and only 5 per cent definitely agreed.

Broadly, the research confirms the existence of what might be called a Green Gap: the difference between what people should do and what they actually do on the environment.

It will make gloomy reading for campaigners days before the UN spells out the potential damage from global warming in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Friday's verdict will focus on the likelihood of rising seas, increased droughts, dying rivers, hurricanes and flooding, failing harvests, human displacement and wars over scarce resources such as water.

"In coming decades, changes in the environment - and the resulting upheavals, from droughts to inundated coastal areas - are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict," the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, warned.

Green pressure groups say that individuals will have to make sacrifices if Britain is to meet its target of reducing carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, by 30 per cent by 2020.

But the Green Barometer, which will be published quarterly, suggests we have a leisurely attitude towards greenhouse gas emissions, which rose to their highest for 10 years, three per cent higher than 1997.

Most people (73 per cent) were prepared to stop the tap running while brushing their teeth but only 56 per cent would walk to work instead of driving, when walking was feasible. Just over half of one per cent would use local produce to cut food miles. Twenty-two per cent would be willing to cut out one foreign holiday a year and 21 per cent to shun a plasma television.

Norman Baker, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group, said the Government needed to encourage people to contribute to a "universal effort". "People believe that climate change is there but they think what they do won't make a difference. There's a major hurdle to get over on that," the Liberal Democrat MP said.

David Lewis, from the Mind Lab consultancy, said: "Unfortunately a majority of us still believes that climate change, while important, is not especially urgent with a minority still clinging to the view it is neither urgent nor important.

"Numerous psychological studies have shown bringing about significant changes in our own attitudes, beliefs and behaviour is always difficult and often traumatic," he said.

"Often, indeed, such changes occur only as the result of some major crisis."

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