People won't change lifestyle for planet: straw poll

LONDON (Reuters) - People want to save the planet but are unwilling to make radical lifestyle changes like giving up air travel or red meat to reduce the effects of climate change, a straw poll by Reuters showed.

A traveller walks to his flight at Ronald Reagan National Airport as the sun rises in Washington, September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

As leaders gear up for another round of climate change talks later this month in New York, motivating people to change their lifestyles will be crucial in ensuring cuts in planet-warming greenhouse gases, experts say.

Over 40 percent of Britain’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the main greenhouse gas causing climate change, come from the energy we use at home and in traveling.

A straw poll of 15 British men and 15 British women between the ages of 25-75 in central London, showed all were willing to make small changes for the environment, such as recycling, but few would commit to more fundamental changes to behavior.

“I try to minimize using my car but I wouldn’t give it up,” a 42-year-old man, Emerald Wijesinthe, told Reuters.

Changing small habits like leaving appliances on standby are relatively easy, but more radical changes face resistance.

“We know from plenty of evidence in social, personality, and clinical psychology that people generally do not like to change their identities - they prefer stability,” Tim Kasser, psychology professor at Knox College in Illinois, told Reuters.

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Tapping into gender differences could help focus energy efficiency measures and deliver better results.

“Women are more likely to be energy conscious and willing to make habit-related changes, whereas men are more likely to make investments in more efficient equipment,” said Sarah Darby, research fellow at UK Research Council’s Energy Programme.

All the women interviewed in the straw poll said they made efforts to reduce energy use, compared with 60 percent of men.

Seventy percent of men said they were unwilling to change their lifestyles, compared with just 10 percent of women.

“I make sure the house isn’t overheated, lower our meat intake and grow vegetables,” said 71-year old Rosie Hughes.

Eighteen percent of all greenhouse gas emissions is due to meat production, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Research suggests women in general show more empathy and concern for the greater good than men, Kasser added, which made them more likely to think about the impacts of their daily behavior on the environment.

In fact, appealing to people’s altruistic side is likely to spur people to make fundamental changes, rather than motivation from financial concerns, and advertisers can play an important role in encouraging greener lifestyles.

“Climate change is now a marketing challenge as well as a scientific one,” said Ian Curtis, founder of Oxfordshire climate project ClimateXchange.

For a factbox on the impact of energy use, click on

Editing by Sue Thomas