25 January 2022
Irish research is increasingly focusing on the social science aspect of the climate crisis.
Late last year we had the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change in the Irish Mind report and now today we’ve got brand-new research out of the Economics and Social Research Institute (ESRI) to dig into.
The body’s Behavioural Research Unit conducted a multi-choice quiz with participants back in October 2021 and produced a number of key findings – and we pulled out some that caught our eye.
People care about climate, but it’s dwarfed by concern for housing and health
According to the study climate change is the third most important policy issue for Irish people. It is however completely overshadowed in the study by two other topics, housing and health.
This was particularly clear when participants were asked what their number-one-top-of-the-list issue was. Nearly 13 per cent of participants said it was climate, while about a third claimed it was healthcare (including Covid-19 pandemic), and just over 29 percent said that it was housing.
So while climate change is coming in third overall, in the ESRI’s own words, the issue is “dwarfed” by concern for healthcare and housing.
This is consistent with current political trends. Exit polls showed a similar picture to the one that was seen in Ireland’s 2020 general election (which, to most people, feels like a lifetime ago).
According to an Ipsos MRBI PollA little over a third said that their primary concern was health, and just under a quarter claimed that housing was their main concern.
Carbon tax remains quite controversial
And when it comes to carbon tax (a controversial policy tool to address the climate crisis) – it seems to retain its contentious status.
Carbon tax will increase by €7.50 this year, rounding up the total figure to €41 per tonne. Half of that increase will go towards increasing fuel allowance.
The authors concluded that opinions about carbon tax were related to how much people understand about climate change. Participants took part in a short quiz to find out the answers. After that, the number of people who thought a carbon tax would work well to change behaviour increased by 25%.
However, overall opinions on carbon tax were different across respondents.
About half of the participants said the carbon tax as set out in Budget 2022 should be increased, with a quarter saying that increase should be by €10.
And at the same time – over 20 per cent believed that a carbon tax was ultimately ineffective as a policy tool. A third of respondents agreed that the figure should be reduced.
A third of the population isn’t aware of how much agriculture in Ireland emits
When it comes to Ireland’s largest emitting sector, one in three participants were not aware that agriculture was a primary source of emissions in Ireland.
As we’ve pointed out before: Ireland remains a European outlier when it comes to emissions from agriculture. It is responsible to more than a third of the country’s greenhouse gas pie. This is substantially higher that the European Union average share, which is ten per cent.
And while other areas such as transport saw their emissions decline during lockdown restrictions, agriculture’s actually increased by 1.4 per cent in 2020 according to the EPA.
The growth was attributed by the agency to increased nitrogen fertiliser use and higher livestock numbers, in particular when it concerns dairy cattle.
After the 2015 removal of the EU dairy quota, Irish dairy production has increased significantly. In 2020 alone the total dairy herd grew by 3.2 per cent – which is reflective of a broader trend.
Over the past decade, the number and production of dairy cows have increased by more than 45%, while milk production has increased by 60% in the same time frame.
People are less likely to take on higher-impact individual actions.
There’s also a lot in this research to unpack when it comes to what actions people say they are willing to take as individuals.
Low-impact and environmentally harmful actions, such as recycling waste in the general trash bin, were considered more unacceptable than high-emitting ones like driving a car or continuing eating meat.
This also tracked with people’s willingness to do certain things: Participants were less inclined to engage in high-impact behaviours than they were to lower-impact ones.
Recycling and using energy efficient bulbs were the most popular household actions.
The authors also make an important conclusion on a key finding: that providing information on climate change increased participants’ willingness to engage with moderate and high-impact behaviours, but that overall the effects on intentions were small and “unlikely to translate into the kind of behaviour change required.”