Britons are a tight bunch when it comes to saving the planet. When UK citizens were asked how much they would contribute to projects to reduce carbon emissions in developing countries, they said they would pay less than $30 per year in extra income tax. That falls far short of the $100-$140 per year required to fund adaptation in developing countries. Amusingly, the study’s authors says that $30 is around what a Briton will spend on postage stamps in a year, which is itself a surprisingly high figure.
The study, in which researchers Tanya O’Garra and Susana Mourato of the London School of Economics and Political Science surveyed 1,000 people, found that many respondents not only didn’t know that carbon emissions drive climate change, but also that they didn’t feel responsible for it.
“A belief that climate change is caused by nature allows some people to absolve themselves of responsibility,” say the researchers, adding that this might be considered “strategic fatalism.”
Participants were first briefed with “extensive information about climate change causes, impacts and adaptation,” and then asked if they were “willing to support a proposed global climate change adaptation program.” They were then given the option of donating a one-off amount to this ‘Worldwide Adaptation Fund’ (WAF), donating separately to the individual programs within the WAF, or giving nothing.
They were then given the pictured list and asked to choose the maximum donation they would give. The result was the paltry $30 average reported above. That said, we don’t know what people in other parts of Europe or the U.S. would give–perhaps Brits aren’t cheap at all relatively speaking, which would be depressing.
The researchers found that knowledge, and therefore attitude to climate change, was the biggest factor in influencing contributions. Many participants admitted they knew little about the mechanisms of climate change. Even so, a quarter of climate skeptics that took part said they would give over $10, even while they said that “climate change is not happening.” The authors guess that this might be down to the education these skeptics received as part of the study.
Another possibility is that the Brits are just plain skeptical that schemes funded by tax money, and therefore administered at least in part by the government, would even work. Perhaps participants offered such small amounts because they figured the government would just waste the money and screw up the schemes anyway?
The authors conclude that a combination of knowledge about climate change and a belief in fixing it are the most important factors in raising the levels of contributions, along with the actual ability to pay, but that the most impact could be had by convincing people that humans are to blame.
“In particular, a belief that nature is the main cause of climate change appears to have a strong negative influence on the decision whether to contribute or not,” say the authors. “Social psychologists have identified a number of cognitive mechanisms employed by individuals to justify engaging in unethical behavior, one of which involves displacement of responsibility onto something external to the individual. We observe this displacement of responsibility amongst respondents that attribute climate change to natural causes.”
The answer, say O’Garra and Mourato, is a public education campaign to show that nature is not an independent force outside of human control.