Green fatigue hits campaign to reduce carbon footprint

Car sales, flights and waste all increase as the recession takes its toll on consumers' motivation

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Britons are less environmentally conscious than they were five years ago, with twice as many people now "bored" by talk of climate change as in 2005. Four in 10 take no action at all to reduce their household carbon dioxide emissions. Experts warn that green fatigue is a major reason why there are more cars on the roads, more planes in the sky and no reduction in the mountain of packaging waste.

As a new energy report reveals that too few people are making an effort to reduce their household CO2 emissions, environmentalists believe the recession is further undermining public commitment.

The report, by market researchers Mintel, shows that many of Britain's 26 million homes fail to make simple adjustments such as turning down thermostats, switching off lights and switching off appliances rather than leaving them on standby. The findings also reveal people are less willing to spend money on energy-efficient appliances than they were five years ago. Analysts believe the recession together with a backlash against "extreme" environmentalist pressure has reduced people's enthusiasm to combat climate change.

The report also found that resistance to saving the planet was greater among men: one in four said they think there is too much concern over the environment, compared with one in six women.

Other evidence of waning public interest in consumers' carbon footprint includes a rise in air and car travel. The number of cars on UK roads has risen from just over 26 million in 2005 to more than 31 million in 2009. Air travel has also increased, the number of passengers rising from 227 million in 2005 to 235 million in 2008.

New research from the Energy Saving Trust found that climate change has taken a back seat to recession concerns. The authors of the Mintel, blaming the problem partly on consumer ignorance, recommend the Government "help consumers to help themselves" by providing them with more information about energy savings in accessible ways.

Environmentalists are still positive about the progress on green issues. "It comes in waves," said Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth. "Some things people have been doing for a while – [such as] buying organic tea. For people to take the next step – insulating their homes or other big projects – requires more support."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the country was moving towards a more sustainable future. Household recycling rates had increased from 14 per cent to 37 per cent from 2001 to 2009, and the proportion of waste sent to landfill dropped from 78 per cent to 50 per cent over the same period.

Case study

Brian Longhurst, 28, investment banker, London.

"I do care more about the environment than I did five years ago, and we recycle all our rubbish. Climate change is important, but the people who are more extreme have split everyone into two camps. We moved into a new house in April and it got a really bad efficiency rating. They suggested improvements like insulation, but they were too expensive. I fly a lot, but I'm not going to get trains – it is just not practical. I don't know how they can justify train prices."

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