Londoners are united by a deep sense of anger and anxiety about climate change, according to a major report launched today. Whilst they have little faith that political leaders gathering at the COP26 environmental summit will be able to avert global catastrophe, they are stepping up and taking action in their everyday lives to help the planet. Indeed, the city’s people are ahead of the politicians, who risk being dangerously out of touch.
The report, A Crisis in Common by the think tank Global Future, finds that climate change is not as divisive or controversial an issue as it is often presented as being. In fact, “eco-anxiety” is shared across the country and felt particularly acutely in the capital where, of the 90 per cent of Londoners who believe in human-induced climate change, 64 per cent report experiencing eco-anxiety and 58 per cent say they are angry about man-made global warming. Across the country, a majority of voters agree with Londoners that climate change will have a bigger impact on humanity than coronavirus.
This has implications for the capital’s mental health. Some 42 per cent of Londoners say they’ve felt seriously worried about the future and 15 per cent say they’ve felt depressed. Although climate change concern is shared across the country, there are aspects of the climate crisis which disproportionately worry Londoners. Of those who believe in human-induced climate change, 74 per cent are particularly anxious about poor air quality and pollution, and 75 per cent ranked rising sea levels as a major cause for concern.
Such fears may be deemed legitimate in a city inundated with pollutants and flood water, where human-made pollution was responsible for an estimated 3,600-4,100 deaths in 2019, and where homes and businesses, roads and Tube stations were visibly damaged by unusually heavy summer rains. In these ways, Londoners no longer see climate change as a distant threat but as a crisis on the capital’s front door.
But Londoners aren’t giving up. Despite widespread anxiety, people are acknowledging the power of collective action. The report documents how Londoners, along with people across the country, are making sacrifices and changing their lifestyles for the common good. A significant “green pound” effect is apparent as people change their spending habits to help the planet. Of the 90 per cent of Londoners who believe in human-induced climate change:
- 66% have changed the way they manage their waste.
- 42% have changed the food they buy/eat.
- 34% have changed the way they spend their money.
- 30% have changed the type of clothes they buy.
- 29% have changed the way or extent they travel.
- 29% have changed the way they vote in local and national elections.
Political leaders are perceived to be out of touch with this collective spirit. In moments of crisis, democracy rules that we look to our leaders for guidance, however in this case it is they who are blamed for causing the catastrophe. When asked who is responsible for the climate crisis, the vast majority listed fossil fuel companies (80 per cent), corporations (79 per cent) and industrialised nations.
What is more, while Boris Johnson has curated a public image of leading on climate action as Britain hosts COP26, just 6 per cent of Londoners believe this conference will bring “highly-impactful” change. Ironically, there is a higher percentage of climate sceptics in London than of those who have faith in the promises of COP26.
People are prioritising the climate in their everyday lives and it is high time politicians did the same, as neither their positions nor the planet can withstand further delay.
Sadie Levi is a Global Future intern in her final year studying geography at the University of Edinburgh and is co-author of the report.
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