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Catalyst Analysis – Climate change frustration but hope remains alive

The Catalyst social and environmental research program provides an ongoing monitor of consumer sentiment towards a range of issues facing society.

This month, Rebecca Huntley, celebrated researcher, speaker and author of ‘How to Talk About Climate Change’, dived into the Catalyst results to examine how Australians are feeling about the state of climate change action. Read on for Rebecca’s fascinating analysis.

Frustrated but hopeful

The Catalyst research aligns well with, and expands upon, the findings of other reputable research on attitudes to climate change — in particular, that a strong majority of Australians are concerned about climate change and still feel there is time to act. 

Of more than 30 social and environmental issues noted in the August Catalyst survey, Australians identified climate change as the second-most important issue, with 44 percent of respondents stating it is the issue requiring the most immediate attention (second only to COVID-19, which is understandably top-of-mind).

When Australians were asked how they felt about a recent global report identifying Australia as behind other developed countries in its response to climate change, the main emotions were not despair or disinterest, but worry (37%), frustration (34%) and annoyance. That being said, around a quarter of Australians are unconcerned, and around a quarter believe we have left it too late to do anything about it. 

In my experience, these concerns reflect the slow pace of change, and the extent to which the issue of climate change is so tangled up in partisan politics. Those who are unconcerned tend to skew towards the vocal minority who believe climate change is either a hoax or exaggerated, or a natural cycle we can’t do anything about.

Despite this frustration, the Catalyst data shows us that Aussies are striving to do their individual part to combat climate change. A promising 30 percent of respondents indicated they have actively changed their behaviour to try to address climate change in the last 12 months. One in five have consciously purchased products that support solving climate change. 

While there is increasing evidence of Australians taking personal responsibility to create positive change, there is also an increasing expectation that businesses need to do their bit. The Catalyst data shows that 53 percent of Aussies expect businesses to come up with new ways to tackle climate change — suggesting the same appetite for change that appears widespread across climate research. A smaller proportion (43 percent) believe companies should set internal rules to help address their contribution to climate change, whilst over a third (35 percent) believe businesses should actively encourage their employees to take action. At the most active end of the spectrum, one in four Australians expect businesses to donate to, or fundraise for, charities that address climate change.

In general, the survey’s numbers are encouraging for those wanting more government action on climate — but they are also quite sobering. Given the power of climate change denialism and delaying in our politics and our media, it may remain true that a quarter or so of the population will, unfortunately, always think action on climate is either unnecessary or ineffective. 

Whilst vocal minorities will continue to deny climate change and do everything in their power to delay progress, the reality is that the majority of Australians are frustrated by the current pace of change. Perhaps the alternative is to galvanise businesses to act more quickly. The Catalyst data highlights that consumers are expecting just that — so let’s use this data to start conversations in our workplaces, because businesses can be a force for good, too. 

by Rebecca Huntley

Get the monthly Catalyst data release here.

About Rebecca Huntley:
Dr Rebecca Huntley is one of Australia’s foremost researchers on social trends. She is an author and researcher, and holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in Gender Studies. For nearly 9 years Rebecca was the Director of The Mind & Mood Report, Australia’s longest running social trends report. She is the author of numerous books, most recently ‘How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way that Makes a Difference’ (Murdoch Books, 2020) and has written for The Guardian, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and BRW among many other publications.