Australians are increasingly concerned about climate change, but resist diet change to help planet

Monash University

Australians are overwhelmingly changing their attitudes towards climate change but are reluctant to change their diets to help the environment, a Monash University study reveals.

More than double the number of Australians have become alarmed about climate change in the past decade, with women more likely to adopt a more climate-friendly diet than men, according to the Climate Change: Concern, Behaviour and The Six Australias report.

This report compares data with studies conducted in 2011, 2016 and 2020 to determine whether there have been changes in attitudes towards climate change and behaviours of Australians.

The report draws from the Six Americas framework, developed by Yale, to group audiences on a spectrum based on their climate change beliefs, attitudes and actions – from Alarmed to Dismissive.

Released this week by the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, it found more than 80 per cent of the Australians surveyed are either Cautious, Concerned or Alarmed about climate change.

Of those, 31 per cent of the respondents are in the Alarmed climate segment – up from 25 per cent in 2020 and 14 per cent in 2011.

Women lead the way compared to men on voting based on environmental issues, respectively 50 and 36 per cent, while men are more likely to take a practical approach to reduce their footprint by using less petrol or putting in home insulation.

Unsurprisingly, younger adults are more likely than older Australians to vote based on environmental issues, give money to environment groups and take part in civic activities.

The report also captures the behaviours people are willing to amend for climate change – with 40 per cent having no intention of changing to a more sustainable diet. While respondents were most resistant to make a dietary change, 26 per cent wish to but are yet to action it.

Yet 32 per cent of women surveyed had changed their diet compared to just 18 per cent of men, contributing to the 24 per cent of the total respondents who have already changed their diet.

Author and Research Fellow Lucy Richardson said a big shift in community attitudes is needed for Australians to adopt sustainable, healthy diets which includes eating less meat and more plant-based foods, and ensuring food is sustainably produced with low greenhouse gas emissions, to help address climate change.

“We really need to better understand this resistance to changing our diets – especially around eating less meat, and how communities can be better supported to be more sustainable,” Dr Richardson said.

“While there is growing alarm over climate change, this doesn’t always translate into action. People tend to do the easiest things, which is understandable, but a lot more needs to be done.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on mitigating climate change released earlier this year also says that moving to sustainable diets is a critical way we can all help address climate change, but this new report shows Australians have a long way to go.”

While 80 per cent of the 3098 respondents have acted on climate change, just 10 per cent have done ‘a great deal of action’ compared to 30 and 40 per cent respectively, engaging in ‘moderate’ or ‘little action’.

Turning off lights at home was the most common change in behaviour within the home at 86 per cent, followed by a joint 76 per cent of people reducing gas and electricity use, and food waste.

Forty-five per cent of respondents have switched to environmentally-friendly products in their homes, while just 13 per cent of respondents have bought carbon-offsets to reduce their carbon footprint.

But there’s been a shift towards green power with more than 35 per cent of respondents planning to or already buying renewable energy, 17 per cent would like to use it while 20 per cent don’t plan to.

The report also reveals the Dismissive segment has remained below 10 per cent since 2011.

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