A research project by the University of Vaasa’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship InnoLab and E2 Research has been studying the attitudes of citizens, municipal decision-makers and managers of major companies towards climate change. The greatest concerns include the impacts of climate change on the most fragile regions globally and on the lives of future generations.
From scared to not interested at all
The research ended in 2020 with the Making Sense of Climate Change project that surveyed Finns’ attitudes to climate change.
The climate change debate can make your hair stand on end, or be frightening, worrying – or just boring. There are still people, albeit a minority, who do not believe in climate change and its impacts on the planet.
– However, most of us are troubled by it. People think about climate issues every day, says Tommi Lehtonen, a researcher in the project and Director of Responsibility and Ethics at the University of Vaasa.
The citizens’ attitude to the public debate on climate change is ambivalent. The majority say that they have received information on the climate impacts of their actions and feel that they want to do more. At the same time, most Finns feel that the debate lays the blame on ordinary people and find the news and reports difficult to follow. More information is needed, preferably in a clear form.
What can one do?
People know that something should be done to mitigate climate change. According to the study, the most popular and, in their opinion, most effective climate action among the public is recycling waste and reducing consumption – each at their discretion. In reality, however, the impact of recycling waste on an individual’s carbon footprint is quite small.
– The biggest daily climate impacts are related to transport, housing and food. If you can reduce private car use and increase the use of public transport, switch from oil heating to district or geothermal heating or reduce the share of meat in your diet, you have already done a lot, Lehtonen says.
If you can also reduce air travel and your purchases in general, the resulting list of climate actions includes significant and effective measures. Not knowing what to do rarely prevents people from getting involved in climate action.
It can be hampered by the associated costs or having to abandon your habits or customs. Solar panels are installed by those who can afford them. People do not fail to give up private motoring, meat or annual trips abroad because they find it difficult but because it is unpleasant to do so. They wish to carry out climate actions that do not require any effort.
– Good and cost-effective examples provide a basis for personal climate actions. Of course, the educational work of experts and public figures can also play a role. Still, the most effective examples often come from those nearest to us, such as relatives and friends.
We won’t if they don’t
The general public and local politicians are concerned that Finnish efforts to keep climate change in check may be futile because other countries do not do enough or do nothing. People feel that the significance of Finland’s actions will remain minor.
– Some Finns think that their opportunities to influence climate change mitigation are so modest that they do not matter one way or the other, says Lehtonen.
However, another group of Finns think that even small personal actions and choices matter, that individual climate actions serve as an example and that, by acting to mitigate climate change, they can create hope for everyone.
– Finns see themselves as nature lovers and, as a rule, value the environment as part of their national identity. At the same time, they may think that sustainable lifestyle is a natural continuum of this.
Alas, the mere image of a nation in sync with nature does not count towards the necessary climate actions. In fact, the emissions of individual Finns on a global scale are large. According to various calculations, they should be reduced by 70–90 % to mitigate climate change.
Climate change raises conflicts and antagonism
Increasing societal confrontation was a topic of concern, along with the fear that people fail to understand the gravity of the situation.
Almost 40% of the general public regularly experiences contradictions between their beliefs and actions regarding climate change. These contradictions relate to their mobility and consumption choices.
– For example, people consider private cars harmful to the environment but still use them.
Decision-makers and managers do not suffer from conflicts as often as the general public. Managers of major companies struggle the most with travel choices.
For decision-makers, conflicts are related to the costs and efficiency of climate actions, among other things. According to Lehtonen, investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency may be impossible, especially for small companies and companies in a difficult financial situation.
– It may be that, from the company’s point of view, the savings and climate benefits should materialise immediately, even though you may have to wait years, particularly for the economic impacts. This may dilute the attitude towards climate benefits to thinking that the role or impact of the company in mitigating climate change is, in any case, very small, Lehtonen says.