23rd April 2019

Nature - Time to put words into action

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At 56 Degree Insight we bring a passion and expertise developed over many years working with clients across a range of sectors. As we approach our launch in June we will be sharing some details on our offer, our points of view and our recent experiences working in each of these areas. Let’s look at a hugely topical area – climate change, and where survey data fits in…

A record breaking Easter

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With UK temperatures hitting 25°C, this Easter weekend was the hottest on record. The lovely weather and time off gave many of us the chance to spend time outdoors with friends and family, enjoying the countryside and coast.

However, the record breaking temperatures were also a reminder of the pace of climate change.  Globally, the past 4 years have been the hottest on record; 20 of the warmest years ever took place during the last 22 years. 

It’s now widely accepted that that human activities such as deforestation, burning fossil fuels, landfill and agriculture are contributing towards global warming. Experts predict that many parts of the planet will become uninhabitable, rising temperatures will cause more severe weather events and sea level rises will lead to an inundation or severe flood risks in low lying areas. The increasing temperatures are also predicted to have a devastating impact on wildlife leading to the extinction of many species.

In the UK we are experiencing hotter, drier summers and wetter, milder winters and have seen an increased frequency in severe weather events. The continuation of this trend will increasingly impact on our lives. More heatwaves and an ageing population will add pressure on the NHS, parts of the country will experience summer water shortages and storms and floods will risk lives, destroy property and businesses and increase our insurance premiums.

Climate change is already threatening our biodiversity and natural habitats; some experts predict that over a fifth of British mammals and a quarter of bird species could be lost from our countryside forever.

Mind the value–action gap

The facts seem clear - but how aware is the population of the issues, how concerned are they and what are they able (and willing) to do to address the problems?

To find out, Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (or MENE) has tracked the English population’s environmental concerns and their pro-environmental behaviours from 2009 to 2018.

The most recent MENE report, published in September 2018, reported that the vast majority of adults in England (86%) were concerned about damage to the natural environment and most claimed to be aware of the problem of decreasing biodiversity.

However, between 2009 and 2018 the share of the population expressing strong levels of concern for the environment decreased. The reasons for this apparent ‘softening’ in concern aren’t clear but may be related to the rising number of other issues ‘dominating’ the minds of the population. Other long term monitors (e.g. Ipsos-Mori’s Issues Index) show that over the last decade while concerns for the environment have been fairly ‘flat’, the population’s worries over other issues such as the NHS and the UK’s position in Europe increased significantly.

Also, analysis of the MENE data has shown that there is a discrepancy between how much people say that they value the environment and the extent of their participation in activities to counter problems. This difference between attitudes and pro-environmental behaviours has been referred to as the “Value Action Gap”.

The gap is particularly large when it comes to actions that require any investment of time or money.  Most people are modestly involved in pro-environmental behaviours -  around two in three recycle, try to purchase local and eco-friendly products when they can and/or encourage other people to protect the environment. However, far fewer regularly participate in activities such as donating money or volunteering time to support environmental organisations or take steps that would involve a significant lifestyle changes.

Digging further into MENE, we see that the proportion of the population stating that when it comes to protecting the environment ‘they like their lifestyle the way it is and are not likely to change it’ has increased from 26% in 2010 to 33% in 2018. 

In contrast just 17% indicate that they ‘intend to make changes to their lifestyle’. Furthermore, a similar sized proportion (17%) indicate that they’d like to make changes but don’t know how to or that they are waiting for other people to make changes before they do. The results suggest that many of this latter group feel concerned yet unable to have a meaningful impact on the problem (or as comedian Sean Lock put it, making a change would be ‘like turning up at an earthquake with a dustpan and brush.’).

‘A man made disaster on a global scale’

This Easter also saw the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, Edinburgh and a number of other European cities.  The group are leading a ‘strategy of non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience’ to raise awareness of the problems of climate change and the dire consequences if action is not taken now. They want the UK and other governments to recognise the facts and take urgent steps to address the climate change crisis. One of their key demands is the implementation of policies that will lead to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

Last week also saw the airing of the BBC documentary Climate Change – The Facts. The programme looked at the science of climate change and potential solutions. Delivered by trusted figure Sir David Attenborough it presented the (often distributing) facts in a clear and incontrovertible fashion

“Standing here in the English countryside it may not seem obvious but we are facing a man-made disaster on a global scale.” David Attenborough, Climate Change – The Facts

It’s time to put words into action

On writing, the impact of the documentary on the population’s opinions is yet to be seen – could it do for climate change action what Blue Planet II did for plastic?


The Extinction Rebellion protests are ongoing and likely to continue for some time. Will the group’s activities lead to a change in government policy? Will the message make a difference to the population’s attitudes and the actions they take to protect the environment? Will businesses make the changes needed to help consumers to make environmentally friendly choices?

The latest MENE results are currently being analysed and will be published later this summer.  We hope that these new insights will help organisations in the sector to better understand how different segments of the population feel about and engage with the natural environment and in turn how they can effectively promote the behaviour changes needed to address climate change.

Doing the right thing for the future also matters a lot to us personally at 56 Degree Insight and making the right choices to protect the environment will be central to the ways we work – from small things like how we travel and where we buy our sandwiches to the big decisions like the clients we work with and the companies we partner with.

We’d also love to hear your views on how we – as individuals and as businesses - can do more by making changes to how we live and work. Please get in touch.