The public are confused about which industries cause the most pollution, researchers have found. Car and air travel were wrongly thought to be bigger polluters than meat production, agriculture and the fashion industry. Despite most people recognising oil, gas and plastics as big polluters, researchers discovered a widespread misconception about who the other main culprits are.
Change Incorporated, part of the VICE Media Group, polled 9,000+ adults in the UK, US, India, Denmark and Spain and asked which industries people believe are driving pollution up.
People believe cars are the second biggest cause of pollution on the planet after oil and gas - the biggest polluter - when in fact they rank only eighth according to best research estimates.
Plastic goods were correctly ranked as the third biggest polluter but air travel was ranked fourth when in fact research estimates it is only the tenth biggest polluter.
Big polluting industries which are flying under the radar
Electricity and energy production was incorrectly ranked fifth when in fact it is thought to be the second biggest culprit behind oil and gas. Shipping was ranked sixth - closely aligned to its real ranking of seventh. Technology was thought to be seventh - but there isn’t as yet enough research to fully show its impact. The meat industry - or the intensive farming of animals - is the fifth biggest cause of pollution on the planet but was only ranked eighth by those polled, with the misconception particularly high in the United States.
The construction industry was correctly ranked ninth - in line with research estimates - but the fashion industry was only ranked tenth but in fact it is the planet’s sixth biggest polluter according to research.Agriculture was thought only to be the eleventh biggest polluter but is in fact the fourth biggest.
Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth said the survey findings revealed people needed better information in order to fully understand the problem and force change.
FOE climate campaigner, Aaron Kiely, said: “This survey suggests that there are a few big polluting industries which are flying under the radar when it comes to public awareness.
“People need to know who the major players are in carbon emissions so that they understand what part they can have in pushing the big polluting industries to change, whether that’s through avoiding fast fashion, eating a more plant-based diet, or reducing their flying.”
76 per cent or people are willing to make small personal sacrifices
Despite the confusion about the biggest sources of pollution 80 per cent of those polled said they agreed that they are “concerned about the effect of pollution on the planet”. Some 75 per cent said they are concerned about the impact of human activity on the planet.
There was a lower level of consensus about how to tackle the problem. A huge three-quarters of those polled - 76 per cent - said they were willing to make small personal sacrifices but only 64 per cent said they would make large sacrifices.
A further 69 per cent said the high price of sustainable and environmentally friendly goods and services was a barrier to them doing more. And 57 per cent said a lack of environmentally-friendly services was also a barrier. Just over 50 per cent said they would do more if better information and knowledge was available to them.
Alarmingly 44 per cent said apathy and a lack of motivation - and even not caring - was a roadblock to change. Almost 80 per cent said recycling is important and 77 per cent felt cutting down on plastic packaging is important.
There are variations in how people think the problem of pollution should be tackled, with the US and India largely putting the responsibility on individual citizens, while the UK and Denmark believe it is a government responsibility.
Mike Keisman, Head of Research at Change Incorporated said, “At Change Incorporated, we have a role to continue to step up, and take responsibility for climate inaction by both holding governments, businesses, and other media outlets responsible while making individual citizens more aware of the problem. This can come through educating people on climate terminology, exposure to the problems and finally, directing all people to make simple yet tangible changes in their lives.”
The survey findings highlight the need for greater public awareness efforts, such as the recent Earth Day and demonstrate that its role - to put the spotlight on the need to protect the environment from further damage - is more important than ever.
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