The findings reported in this chapter could be described as 'a mixed bag' for those concerned about the environment and how best to reduce the adverse impact of transport on the environment. For the first time, British Social Attitudes asked people directly about their belief in climate change and found that climate sceptics are in the minority in Britain. For those accepting the scientific consensus and its implications for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, the recognition of climate change by the majority is reassuring. While there are demographic variations in this belief, a majority in all the social groups we have examined accept that climate change is real and that it is, at least in part, caused by human activity. Yet it is also clear that a substantial minority - around one quarter - either reject the notion of climate change altogether or believe that it is not man-made.
Since 2006, we have observed a trend of declining public concern about the part that transport plays in climate change. Our latest survey shows that this is continuing, albeit at a slower pace. A year ago, Taylor (2011a) suggested that declining concern may be a result of the economic uncertainties being experienced in Britain. Since both economic uncertainty and decreasing concern have continued into this year, this may well be the case. Only time will tell whether economic recovery can help to reverse the trend.
We have also found only a weak association between the amount people travel and their views about climate change and the environment. There is limited willingness to reduce car and plane use, and low levels of support for policies that make motoring or air travel more expensive. This suggests that policies geared to making transport more sustainable will be met with less resistance than those that try to influence travel choices. As Stradling et al. (2008) acknowledged in the 24th British Social Attitudes report, there are real difficulties facing any government that tries to apply demand-side measures as a way of influencing millions of individual lifestyle choices. In the latest survey it is even more apparent that willingness to change travel behaviour is lower among those who decline to believe that climate change is caused by humans or who are unconcerned by it.
Attempts by government to convince Britons to consider changing their behaviour are a long way from being realised. A significant minority have yet to be convinced about the need to take action in the first place. However, this does not suggest that attempts to bring about a shift should be abandoned. There is evident willingness among many people to consider reducing the amount they travel by car and plane, particularly among those who express concern about pollution and the environment. But the greatest challenge for those wishing to encourage environmentally-friendly travel continues to be that of convincing sceptics that climate change caused by humans is real - and a real threat.
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- Speech by David Cameron at Department of Energy and Climate Change, www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn10_059/pn10_059.aspx
- This question does not ask specifically about car use, but is placed with other questions about road transport.
- It has previously been noted that those most concerned about the environment can often themselves be the most frequent flyers (Commission for Integrated Transport, 2007).
- Transport policy in Scotland is devolved so this would only apply in England and Wales.
- The multivariate analysis technique used was logistic regression - more details of the methods used can be found in the Technical details chapter of this report. Further details of the analysis results are available from the authors on request.
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