Many climate activists and politicians are failing to persuade significant proportions of the population of the benefits of decarbonising the economy, and may even be hindering environmental action, a new report has warned.
The Fabian Society, a left-wing think tank, found key arguments being put forward for decarbonising the economy are failing to resonate among people who don’t already consider environmental action as a key priority.
While Joe Biden put the creation of a green economy at the heart of his pitch to US voters at the 2020 election, and Boris Johnson has talked up the green industrial opportunities available in the UK through pursuing offshore wind power, new research lays bare the huge challenge that remains in convincing swathes of the public that climate action should be a key focus.
The report, which surveyed more than 5,000 adults in the UK, identified working-class people, those without university degrees, Conservative voters and Brexit supporters as being less convinced of economic benefits of climate action.
Government and media messaging expounding the potential boon to the economy of green jobs is failing to persuade the groups who need persuading the most, the think tank concluded.
The promotion of green jobs and a green economy tend to “preach to the converted”, the report’s authors said – they boost support for climate action among groups who already tend to be supportive, which include middle class people, progressive activists, Labour voters, Remain voters and degree holders.
Meanwhile key terms often used in describing routes out of the climate crisis frequently “provoke negative reactions and understandable confusion”, the report found. These terms included “net-zero”, and “green industrial revolution”.
“Around 30 per cent of people had a negative reaction [to these terms], or expressed scepticism, concerns about waste or cost and views that it was jargon or rhetoric: ‘Haha, you live in cuckoo land’, ‘rubbish, or ‘wishful thinking’ for example,” the report said.
Luke Raikes, research director at the Fabian Society and one of the co-authors of the report, told The Independent: “When a lot of politicians and climate change activists talk about climate change they talk a lot about ‘green jobs’ or the ‘green industrial revolution’, or the economic argument for tackling climate change and this is quite a clear appeal to working class people and people who are not the conventional climate change crowd. And we find that this is not working.
“Activists tend to think it [economic considerations] will land well, because they think that they know how other people think, but people view climate change very differently.
“Revolution isn’t necessarily a good word to be using to people who are worried or are already feeling insecure. If you say you’re going to bring a revolution, that’s going to jar with a lot of people.”
However, the report found there was strong support across the population for values aligned with protecting the environment, when they were framed in terms of improvements to people’s quality of life, and the natural world.
The report said that messages that emphasised these considerations had much broader appeal among some of the more sceptical groups, as well as among those already supportive of climate action, with support spanning across political divides, age, education, class and value segments.
The survey revealed that the message which was most successful at increasing support for climate action began: “We all deserve a good life, with green space, trees and clean air. We need to be in balance with nature, giving everyone the chance to live in a beautiful and healthy world.”
Mr Raikes said: “We find that in fact the much more inclusive messages are around nature, wildlife and quality of life rather than green jobs.
“A lot of the green jobs claims are not widely believed, or are overblown, so they can get quite negative reactions, particularly if we are talking about the green industrial revolution. This is quite striking given that a lot of politicians use it quite a lot, especially Boris Johnson, and historically Labour as well.
“At the moment, especially at the moment, people are thinking ‘how on earth am I going to pay my bills,’ and not ‘the world is going to end’. Sometimes the left and progressive activists fail to understand that people have quite urgent top priorities and don’t wake up and think ‘how am I going to save the world from climate change today?’”
But he said that when governments and activists are more specific about exactly which jobs a shift to a greener economy could produce, there was much more support.
“If it’s about apprentices and builders and plumbers, and not just vague ‘green jobs’, people do seem to be a bit warmer towards that,” he said.