VCIOM-NESF JOINT ANALYICAL REPORT
Isolation has shown us what it is to live in a ‘world of Greta Thunberg’. And it is not what we like! However, the debates on how to behave in the time of global warming are on. What behavior pattern are Russians likely to adopt?
MOSCOW, August 18, 2020. Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) and National Energy Security Fund (NESF) present a study devoted to the attitudes of Russians towards environmental problems and climate change after self-isolation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO IS WORRIED ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
Environment is one of the topic Russians are extremely interested in. More than half of Russians take notice of environmental problems in their place of residence (fig. 1). In addition, every fourth respondent admits that the pandemic caused him/her to ponder larger questions about environment than before (25%). Almost the same number of respondents believe that after the pandemic people will start to think more critically about environmental issues (29%).
However, it is important to differentiate between environment and climate change. As seen in Fig.1, Russians are very concerned about climate change but it is not their top urgent problem. River and air pollution and waste disposal pose a bigger concern. The European Social Survey data show that Russian preoccupation with the climate change, despite being quite high, is below the EU average (64% vs 76%).
Those who perceive climate change and changing weather patterns in their place of residence to be the biggest problems are respondents aged 60+ (66%), women (67%) and those who assess their financial situation as bad (66%). The share of those with “good” or “very good” family financial situation self-assessment considering climate change as an urgent problem is 10% lower than the share of those with low financial self-assessment and 6% lower than the national average (56%).
The share of the 18-24-year-olds who pointed to climate change as the biggest concern is smaller than the share of Russians in general (52%). It turns out that in Russia climate change concerns increase with age, and this is not typical of the European countries where “the young people accuse the old of their stolen climate future”. Besides that, in Russia climate change is perceived as an urgent issue mainly by women rather than men (67% vs 56%).
Nevertheless, the study shows that elderly respondents (60+) are more likely to be worried about changes in the weather than climate change in general. As to the direct relationship between the human activity and climate change, respondents aged 60 and older appear to be the most skeptical.
GLOBAL WARMING: IS IT HUMAN-INDUCED OR NATURAL?
The pandemic marked a turning point in the Russian perceptions of the climate crisis. Only 7% of Russians consider that during pandemic global warming has slowed down. In this period, human activity has considerably weakened, airlines suspended flights worldwide, the traffic volumes have fallen sharply, and there has been a massive shift towards remote work. In this situation, those who strongly believe that global warming is human-caused were expected to clearly state that the pandemic had slowed the pace of global warming. But they did not. Moreover, 9% of Russians are confident that during a long period of isolation the pace of global warming has risen. A further 9% of respondents do not believe in global warming; 19% do not think global warming and climate change are human-induced (fig. 2).
In this regard, it can be assumed that climate change is directly linked to the use of fossil fuel and carbohydrates. Indeed, the studies suggest that the attitudes towards efforts to address climate change differ substantially across countries: 74% of countries under consideration (including Russia) advocate for subsidizing the development of renewable energy-based power industry; 58% support a ban on the sale of household appliances which have low energy efficiency, and only 30% favor the idea to increase taxes on fossil energy sources (46% oppose the idea).
COMFORT VS ASCESIS
Whether Russians are ready to counter climate change, and how, is of special interest, taking into account a great deal of skepticism concerning the impact of the pandemic and manmade factors on climate change. It is one thing considering climate change as an urgent problem, but quite another to be ready to propose a solution. However, the data of the study show that most of Russians are not ready to counter climate change giving up plenty of comforts.
Even if the share of those who believe in global warming and that it is human-induced is not taken into consideration (about one-third of Russians), only 19% of the remainder think that everyone has to cut back substantially on consumption to stop global warming. At the same time, a majority holds the view that institutional changes and systems-based approach at the legislative level are important to prevent climate change (69%). The percentages of Russians sharing this viewpoint are 12% and 43% (respectively).
Interestingly, those who recognize the importance of cutting consumption are often young people aged 18-24 (26%) and 25-34 (24%), and residents of Moscow and St Petersburg (23%) and cities with 500-950 thousand inhabitants (26%). Those who think that special laws and control over the use of natural resources are necessary are mainly respondents aged 35-44 (75%) and 45-59 (73%).
What actions are Russians ready to make to stop climate change? From the perspective of adherents of human-induced climate change the most important thing is transport and its carbon-based fuel. This primarily deals with air transport as there is no any alternative fuel to kerosene. This is why Greta Thunberg does not travel by air.
As most of Russians have taken a “waiting position” expecting certain measures to be proposed from above, and some part of Russians do not believe in global warming and disagree that climate change is human–induced, unsurprisingly more than half of respondents are not ready to abandon air travel (55%). They are basically younger Russians -- those aged 18-24 (62%). Freedom of travel is likely to be one of essentials for the young people, with climate-related values being secondary. This opinion is also widely supported by the residents of Moscow and St Petersburg (75%), million-plus cities (67%) and cities with 500-950 thousand inhabitants (58%). Only 12% of respondents would willingly abandon air travel. Remarkably, the higher the education level, the smaller the share of those willing to give up air travel (67% of respondents with higher education diplomas), the car (65%, respectively) or air conditioning (50%, respectively).
Most of Russians are not willing to stop using their cars (62%); only 15% would do that. Remarkably, Russians living in large cities are more likely to stop using their cars than the sample average (22% in Moscow and St Petersburg; 21% in other million-plus cities). However travelling by car is not about greenhouse gas emissions but rather about exhaust emissions. And yet, in the Russian mind there is no clear distinction between climate problems and air pollution, because many Russians regard exhaust gas in large cities as an urgent problem (85% of residents of Moscow and St Petersburg consider air pollution to be an urgent problem; 54% of them think the problem is very urgent; 49% and 34% of those living in million-plus cities, respectively).
A compromise would be to change eating habits and to avoid meat and dairy products, according to Russians. Diet and foods are an important issue because cows are also responsible for greenhouse emission: a cow emits more than a personal car. This has led to a trend to substitute beef for plant-based meat, which is much more expensive. The study shows that Russians are reluctant to support this trend. An overwhelming majority of respondents are not ready to eschew meat and dairy products (84%); 7% already gave up meat or have never eaten it; a further 7% would willingly abandon meat.
The situation with air conditioning looks different. Air conditioners are not widely used in Russia: 38% have never used them or stopped using them. Sixteen percent of Russians would willingly stop using them; but most of respondents (45%) would not agree to do that.
To fight global warming Russians are ready to cut down on water use and to switch from a bath to a shower (43% have done that or are going to do that), or to reduce energy consumption (59% of Russians are already monitoring their energy consumption or are going to do that). However, this is for economy reasons rather than climate. According to a February study, 69% of Russians would not agree to pay more for electricity and 74% for public utilities in order to contribute to the development of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.
Russian VCIOM-Sputnik survey was conducted on July 26, 2020. Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,600 Russians aged 18 and older. A stratified dual-frame random sample based on a complete list of Russian landline and mobile phone number was used. The data were weighted according to selection probability and social and demographic characteristics. The margin of error at a 95% confidence level does not exceed 2.5%. In addition to sampling error, minor changes to the wording of questions and different circumstances arising during the fieldwork can introduce bias into the survey.
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