Women were more likely than men to be worried about the impact of climate change

In the survey, people were also asked to describe in their own words how they feel about the future of the environment. Some common themes were identified in the responses, such as: people’s concern for their family and future generations anxiety and helplessness the expense of making eco-friendly changes.

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The FINANCAL — Three-quarters (75%) of adults in Great Britain said they were worried about the impact of climate change, according to the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS’) Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN). Women were more likely to report worry about both the impact of climate change and anxiety about the future of the environment than men.

Just over two-fifths (43%) reported feeling anxious about the future of the environment more widely in the past month.

Adults who reported being worried about the impact of climate change were three times more likely to have made a lot of changes to their lifestyle in response to the issue than those who were relatively unworried.

In the survey, people were also asked to describe in their own words how they feel about the future of the environment. Some common themes were identified in the responses, such as:

  • people’s concern for their family and future generations
  • anxiety and helplessness
  • the expense of making eco-friendly changes.

“[I’m] concerned for what we are leaving our younger generation to cope with.”

In October 2021, three-quarters (75%) of adults in Great Britain said they were either very or somewhat worried about the impact of climate change, while around one-fifth (19%) were neither worried nor unworried.

Around 8 in 10 women (79%) reported being either very or somewhat worried. This was statistically significantly higher than the proportion of men reporting this (72%).

Those aged 70 years and over were less likely to report that they were very worried than some younger age groups. Just under a quarter (24%) of those aged 70 years and over reported being very worried compared with 37% of those aged 25 to 34 years and 34% of those aged 35 to 49 years. For those reporting some level of worry (either very or somewhat worried) there was no significant difference between age groups.

Women were more likely than men to be worried about the impact of climate change

Proportion of adults (aged 16 years and over) and level of worry about the impact of climate change, by demographic, Great Britain, 6 to 17 October 2021

The proportion of adults reporting some level of worry was similar across Great Britain. It was 75% for both England and Wales and 74% in Scotland. Within England, adults in London appeared slightly more likely to report being either very or somewhat worried.

These findings for Great Britain are similar to results of the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Public Attitudes Trackerwhich surveys UK households. In March 2020, this found that around three-quarters (76%) of adults in the UK were concerned to some degree about climate change. The Northern Ireland statistics and research agency (NISRA) survey (PDF, 2.5MB) found that in 2019 to 2020, 78% of adults reported being very or fairly concerned about the environment; there was no question specifically on concern about climate change.

“I’m fearful for my family’s future.”

In free-text responses about how they felt about the future of the environment, a common theme was worry for family, and worry for future generations.

However, some people were worried about the impacts of efforts to combat climate change, such as expressing concern that any effort “creates more problems than it solves”.

Themes identified in the free-text responses largely reflected negative emotions such as worry, frustration and alarm. However, as the free-text questions were optional, it may be that some were more likely to respond to these than others, so the quotes used are not illustrative of the whole population.

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“I think the future is pretty bleak as so much damage has already been done.”

In October 2021, 43% of adults in Great Britain reported having been very or somewhat anxious about the future of the environment over the past month.

A further 37% reported being neither anxious nor unanxious, with 20% reporting being somewhat unanxious or not at all anxious.

Proportions of women saying they were very anxious were similar to men, although the somewhat anxious figure was slightly higher for women (37%) than men (31%).

Adults in younger age groups appeared to be more likely to report feeling not at all anxious, compared with older age groups. Among those aged 16 to 24 years, 22% reported being not at all anxious compared with 9% among those aged 70 years and over.

Younger age groups appeared slightly more likely to report being very anxious about the future of the environment

Proportion of adults (aged 16 years and over) and level of anxiety about the future of the environment over the past month, by demographic, Great Britain, 6 to 17 October 2021

The survey also asked about how positive or negative people felt about the future of the environment. Nearly two-thirds (63%) reported feeling somewhat or very negative when they thought about the future of the environment. Again, this appeared slightly more common in younger age groups (67% of those aged 16 to 24 years, 67% of those aged 25 to 34 years, 68% of those aged 35 to 49 years) than in older age groups (61% of those aged 65 to 69 years, 55% of those aged 70 years and above).

Despite these levels of worry and negative feeling about the future of the environment, some respondents did express optimism in the free-text responses. These more positive comments tended to reference global commitment, investment, and progress as reasons for feeling more upbeat about the future, such as: “I think we are taking strides to have a more green future with the introduction of electric cars etc”.

“I feel dread, anxiousness and hopelessness. Then I feel energised to do something.”

Overall, 81% of adults in Great Britain reported having made some or a lot of lifestyle changes to help tackle climate change.

Adults who reported some level of worry (either very worried or somewhat worried) about the impacts of climate change were three times more likely than those who were relatively unworried (not at all worried or somewhat unworried) to have made a lot of changes to their lifestyle to help tackle the issue.

One in eight of those who reported some level of worry (12%) said they had made a lot of lifestyle changes, compared with 4% of those who were relatively unworried.

Of adults who reported some level of worry, 9 in 10 (90%) said they had made some or a lot of changes to their lifestyle. This compares with 55% of those who were relatively unworried and 52% of those who were neither worried nor unworried.

Those worried about the impact of climate change were more likely to make lifestyle changes to help tackle it

Proportion of adults (aged 16 years and over) who made lifestyle changes to help tackle climate change, by demographic and level of worry, Great Britain, 6 to 17 October 2021

Women were more likely to have made lifestyle changes (85%) than men (77%).

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Adults in the oldest and youngest age groups appeared slightly less likely to report having made lifestyle changes (74% of those aged 70 years and over and 77% of those aged 16 to 24 years). Around 8 in 10 of those in other age groups reported this (80% of those aged 25 to 34 years, 85% of those aged 35 to 49 years, and 84% of those aged 50 to 69 years).

Around 8 in 10 people (82%) agreed that if everyone did their bit, we could reduce the effects of climate change, according to similar survey data from BEIS. In March 2020, 83% of people reported at least one environmentally friendly adaptation to their lifestyle, with the most common being avoiding or minimising throwing away food. However, only around a quarter of those who minimised throwing away food (26%) did so to tackle climate change. Two-thirds (66%) did so for mainly for other reasons, such as lifestyle choice, cost, convenience, health, or ethical reasons.

“The planet was here long before us and it will be here long after.”

Of the quarter (25%) of adults who reported to the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) in October 2021 that they were relatively unworried or ambivalent (not at all worried, somewhat unworried or neither worried nor unworried) about the impacts of climate change, the most common reasons for this were not knowing much about the issue (35%) or thinking there are other more urgent priorities to be worried about (34%).

Among adults in younger age groups who were relatively unworried or ambivalent about climate change, the most common reason was not knowing much about climate change (62% of those aged 16 to 24 years and 49% of those aged 25 to 34 years). Younger adults were also less likely to report thinking that there were other more urgent priorities to worry about (28% of those aged 16 to 24 years and 27% of those aged 25 to 34 years).

Not knowing much about climate change or thinking there were other urgent priorities were the most common reasons for not being worried about climate change

Reasons for adults (aged 16 years and over) not being worried about climate change, by age, Great Britain, 6 to 17 October 2021

“Ideas are impractical and for many too expensive.”

A fifth of adults (19%) in October 2021 reported having made no lifestyle changes to help tackle climate change.

A higher proportion of men reported having made no changes (23%) compared with women (15%).

The most common reasons for not having made lifestyle changes were believing large polluters should change before individuals and believing their actions would not make a difference (both 33%).

The most common reasons for not making lifestyle changes were thinking that they make would not have any effect on climate change, or believing large polluters should change before individuals

Reasons for adults (aged 16 years and over) not making lifestyle changes to tackle climate change, by age, Great Britain, 6 to 17 October 2021

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