A new study suggests that COVID-19 did not cause people to be less concerned about climate change—in spite of the pandemic disturbing and controlling several aspects of their lives.
The study has discovered that for one year and two months—inclusive of the first three months of the COVID-19 lockdown—neither the worry regarding climate change nor the opinion about the severity of the issue reduced in the United Kingdom.
Scientists took a comparison of the responses to the pandemic with the 2008 economic crisis to gain better insights into how concerns and priorities can vary during a crisis.
Contrary to the 2008 economic collapse, which resulted in a decreased concern about environmental problems, the pandemic has not reduced the belief of people about the severity of climate change.
The results provide insight into how an idea known as the 'finite pool of worry' holds for climate change. The theory suggests that there are several things a person can be concerned about, and when there is a major crisis, a few worries are substituted by others. But, in this instance, climate change was not replaced by other problems, the team added.
In April 2019, scientists at the University of Edinburgh took a survey of 1,858 people in the United Kingdom and posed the same questions again in June 2020.
The survey consisted of five questions to assess the beliefs of people regarding the reality of climate change, and four concerning how serious they consider it is.
The findings indicated only slight changes in the opinion of the public. The answers given by the participants to four of the five questions regarding the reality of human-caused climate change suggested a modest increase right from the start of the pandemic.
Just one question among the four regarding the seriousness of climate change indicated a slight decrease, while the other responses revealed no marked variations in views.
According to the team, the findings indicate that climate change might be a permanent part of the concerns of people.
Following the financial crisis, it seemed that climate change was one thing that gave, and most people saw it as less of a problem. We are not seeing that same crowding out of climate change as an issue of concern now. This means heightened societal attention to climate change is here to stay.
Dr Darrick Evensen, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
This study was financially supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK Energy System Program. It was performed in collaboration with the Universities of Exeter, Bath, Heriot-Watt and Stirling.
Evensen, D., et al. (2021) Effect of “finite pool of worry” and COVID-19 on UK climate change perceptions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2018936118.