Climate change awareness down in Europe

By Astrid Madsen - 13 May 2011 9:43:0 GMT
Climate change awareness down in Europe

According to figures recently released by Eurostat, Europeans are becoming increasingly confused about climate change and its origins. In 2011 49% of the respondents were aware of its causes as compared to 56% in 2009, a phenomenon driven by an increase in the number of people who claimed to feel ''not at all informed'' (from 9% to 15%).

Three quarters of those surveyed even considered CO2 to be ''unhealthy'', while 9% said they thought it was flammable and 18% believed it be a water pollutant, none of which is accurate. In ordinary atmospheric concentrations, carbon dioxide is harmless to humans. And it is indeed safe to breathe, which only 7% of the respondents perceived to be true. That said, less people in 2011 believed CO2 to be explosive (7%) than in 2009 (9%). (CO2 is not explosive.)

This seems to be partly due to confusing carbon dioxide (CO2) with its harmful cousin carbon monoxide (CO), which can be lethal and is unsafe to breathe. Only half of Europeans were in fact able to identify CO2 as carbon dioxide; of the 30% that gave wrong answers or admitted they didn't know what it was, 11% identified it as CO. Eurostat's results show that younger generations, who also have greater access to the internet, were the most well informed about climate change and were the most likely to identify CO2 as carbon dioxide. The better educated also scored high in terms of awareness.

Most surprisingly, the majority of Europeans did not identify the need to curb CO2 emissions as the priority. Most were instead in favor of introducing more products on the market: one in three said industries should start focusing more on providing environmentally-friendly technologies and services, and another 29% said cleaner cars were the answer.

Another interesting point is that Europeans were still relatively unaware that the major contributor to CO2 emissions were fossil-fueled power plants (electricity generators that use gas, coal, oil, or peat as their energy source), with 35% of respondents instead laying the blame on ''factories''. Only 28% correctly identified power plants as the main culprit. Those surveyed also tended to overestimate the amount of renewable energy produced in their country.

The Eurostat survey was actually conducted to gage public awareness and acceptance of the technology known as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which involves sequestering the carbon dioxide produced by fossil-fueled power plants underground. This is the latest in the line of defense against climate change and the Internal Energy Agency views it as an integral part of the plan to curb emissions growth.

CCS was welcomed by those surveyed once they were told about the technology, while those who already knew about it beforehand were more likely to voice safety concerns. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some contradictions arose, namely that those who were most in favor of making CCS compulsory for all newly built fossil-fueled power plants were also those who had expressed the greatest reservations about the technology (weren't sure it would be effective or beneficial).

The report also highlighted the need to properly target information campaigns in countries where CCS technology was going to be taken up, most notably by tailoring it to people's education, employments status, etc.