Climate Change is one of the biggest concerns for Irish people
– but they remain uncertain on how to help fight it.
Recent opinion polls conducted in Ireland have shown a significant shift in public sentiment, with climate change emerging as one of the fastest-growing concerns among households.
- Recent research by Bank of Ireland showed that many people now consider climate change as their single biggest concern – with almost one in four citing this as their biggest concern.
- A survey commissioned by Friends of the Earth showed that almost 2 in 3 people (63%) are more worried about the impacts of climate change than they were two years ago, and that 46% of people think the Government “is not doing enough, fast enough, to cut Ireland’s pollution”.
- Media reports about a study by Peopl Insurance Ireland suggest that nine out of 10 homeowners in Ireland are worried about climate-driven extreme weather events, particularly flooding and wildfires.
The rapid increase in concern about the heating planet may be driven by the many instances of extreme weather in recent months, as 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record.
- A study by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that, despite these increasing levels of concern among the Irish public and high levels of overall support for climate action, many people in Ireland feel that ‘others’ will be more affected by global warming than they themselves; In the Irish mind, climate change harms people in the future or far away.
- The “Fair Clare” report by the TASC think tank and Clare PPN further adds to our understanding of public opinion on climate change, showing that many people fear that they cannot afford to live more sustainably. The costs of energy efficiency measures, such as solar panels and heat pumps, and the absence of good public transport options mean that people feel locked into their current carbon intensive lifestyles.
This growing body of insight into how Irish people think about climate change shows that there is widespread desire for climate action, but that doubts remain about the costs involved, the efficacy of local action, and the feasibility of a fair andjust transition.
It appears that Irish attitudes towards climate change mirror media coverage of the topic, which focuses predominantly on extreme weather events such as floods and droughts as well as on the political wrangling about climate policies. Much of the public discourse in Ireland on climate is framed by the problems, not the solutions. To date, there has been little attention for the many initiatives around Ireland of people taking meaningful action in their own communities and homes.
It is time that we start highlighting and celebrating the ingenuity of local action, and the benefits of climate initiatives for our society as a whole: greener neighbourhoods, healthier food, cleaner air and more community solidarity.
When community climate initiatives become more visible – when people see that others care about the environment, and when they hear their friends and peers talk about climate change – people will feel more inclined to try and take action in their own lives too.
It is vital that we acknowledge that the transition to a zero-carbon society can be difficult and complex, and that we need to do our utmost as a society to eliminate the financial barriers to change; barriers which are most acutely felt by those at lower income levels.
Furthermore, we need to help people with practical support.
Although the cost of adopting a sustainable, low-carbon lifestyle can seem daunting, many sustainable choices can lead to cost savings and long-term benefits. Energy efficient appliances, home insulation and renewable energy sources can all save money in the long term. Reducing single-use plastics, composting and recycling can contribute to waste reduction and potentially save money on rubbish disposal fees. Cycling and walking can also lead to savings in fuel, maintenance, and healthcare costs associated with air pollution, and buying durable products that have a longer lifespan can also save money in the long run.
A zero-carbon society requires an urgent and fundamental rethink of the policies that have governed our transport, food production, energy use, and land management, for instance, but we also need changes in our behaviour.
Our generation has been given a unique invitation to use our creativity to find new ways to organise our society. This is a daunting and urgent task that will become harder the longer we procrastinate. But it is also a challenge to bring out the best in us.