Willingness to change travel behaviour
Having considered people's current behaviour, we move on to look at how able and willing they are to change the way they travel in order to reduce the impact on climate change. One of the Department for Transport's key environmental impact indicators is the proportion of urban trips under five miles that people take either by walking, cycling or public transport (Department for Transport, 2011a). On a similar theme, British Social Attitudes asks how easy it would be for respondents to make short journeys currently undertaken by car by other means, although the question focuses on journeys of less than two miles. People were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with these statements:
Many of the journeys of less than two miles that I now make by car I could just as easily walk
Many of the journeys of less than two miles that I now make by car I could just as easily go by bus
Many of the journeys of less than two miles that I now make by car I could just as easily cycle, if I had a bike
There is evidence of some willingness to consider change for short journeys. Four out of ten (41 per cent) either agree or agree strongly that they could walk instead of driving, a third (33 per cent) say they could get the bus and another four out of ten (38 per cent) say they could cycle. These proportions have changed little during the decade the question has been asked. However, we must remember that these questions tap into people's ability to alter their travel behaviour as well as their willingness to do so. Their ability to use alternative means of transport even for short journeys may be constrained by health problems or the lack of a suitable bus service. Our results show that 25 per cent disagree or disagree strongly that they could walk instead of driving, and 39 per cent disagree that they could take the bus as an alternative.
We additionally asked the drivers in our survey about other transport choices they might be prepared to make "to help reduce climate change". We asked whether they agree or disagree that:
I am prepared to reduce my speed on the motorway to help reduce my CO2 emissions
Next time I buy a car, I would be willing to buy a car with lower CO2 emissions. This might be an ordinary car with a smaller or more efficient engine, or a vehicle that runs on electric or alternative fuels
I am willing to reduce the amount I travel by car
We then asked everyone taking part in the survey whether they agree or disagree that:
I am willing to reduce the amount I travel by plane
Note that respondents were also able to give a spontaneous response that they already engage in these behaviours.
The responses indicate considerable willingness to change. Seven out of ten drivers (70 per cent) say they would be willing to buy a car with lower carbon dioxide emissions, while a further two per cent say they already do so. Six out of ten (60 per cent) would be willing to reduce their speed on the motorway to help reduce climate change, with one per cent saying that they already do so. This finding compares interestingly with the government's proposal to increase the speed limit on motorways from 70mph to 80mph,4 rather than reduce it. As might be expected from earlier replies to questions about reducing car and air travel, the response to these possibilities is less positive. Four out of ten drivers (40 per cent) agree they would be willing to reduce their travel by car, but an equal proportion disagree (a further four per cent say they are already travelling less by car in response to climate change). Meanwhile, although one in four (24 per cent) among the wider public say they are prepared to travel less by plane, one in three (32 per cent) disagree. We may also note that five per cent say they are already reducing their air travel to help tackle climate change, while almost one in four (23 per cent) insist they never fly anyway.
Looking at Table 4.10 we can see that there is - not surprisingly - a strong connection between people's willingness to change their travel behaviour to help reduce climate change and their beliefs about its existence and cause. Just 27 per cent of drivers who don't believe climate change is taking place are willing to reduce their speed on the motorway (or already do so), compared with 69 per cent of those (the majority of the population) who believe that climate change exists and is at least partly due to human actions. Likewise, only 34 per cent of drivers who don't believe in climate change would be prepared to buy a car with lower CO2 emissions (or have already done so), compared with 78 per cent of those who believe in man-made climate change. We see similar patterns in relation to lowering car use and, across the population as a whole, to reducing travel by plane. Logistic regression analysis confirms that willingness to change behaviour in each of these ways is independently associated with belief in climate change (having controlled for sex, age, level of education, income, party identification and urbanicity).5
Does this mean that increasing scepticism about climate change carries implications for policy efforts to tackle climate change through behaviour change? Potentially yes, given that climate change sceptics are clearly less willing to change. However, while scepticism has increased, it still runs at a relatively low level. Most people believe in climate change caused or partly caused by human behaviour and are concerned about the impact of transport on the environment.
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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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