The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” estimated to be more than four times the size of Japan, floats halfway between California and Hawaii. South Africa keeps an uneasy eye on the three-year drought threatening to deplete their clean water stores. Chinese citizens don air masks before leaving their homes to combat major air pollution in their capital city. Environmental issues are present throughout our world and represent issues to be addressed on both a national and international level. The causes of these problems are diverse and affect an equally varied range of cultures and people.
To examine the world’s environmental challenges, Ipsos Global Advisor has studied public sentiment on a bevy of environmental issues across 28 countries. In recent years, global warming has become a hot topic on the international policy stage. Unsurprisingly, it comes in tied with two other topics as the top environmental issue that worries global respondents. When asked what three environmental issues out of a list of 15 are most worrisome, 30% of respondents cited global warming, air pollution, or dealing with waste as the most concerning environmental problem. In other words, the list of legitimate environmental concerns is so long, it is difficult to reach a global consensus on which issue should be tackled first.
The issue of non-consensus is especially exacerbated when considering the reality that individual countries will have a vested interest in solving some global environmental issues before others. For example, Saudi Arabia, an economy that has grown strong through the global oil trade, reports three oil related issues as most concerning: the future of energy sources (31% of respondents), the depletion of natural resources (25%), and air pollution (22%), the negative byproduct of the finite natural energy source that has made them a global power. Of these concerns, only air pollution makes the world’s list of top-three issues.
Between the world’s top-three tied issues of global warming, air pollution, and dealing with waste, dealing with waste makes it into the top-three list in the most countries – 18 out of 28. Meanwhile, air pollution is a top issue in 16 of 28 countries. It is also notably the top issue in two countries who have seen rapid economic growth through aggressive industrial expansion in recent decades: China (57%) and India (42%). Lastly global warming comes in as a top issue in 15 of 28 countries. Included within those 15 are Canada (39%), France (40%), Germany (36%), Spain (45%), and the United States (37%), all of whom rank it as the number one issue for their country.
The United States has formally withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement and is beginning to step into the background of the global warming issue. In response, environmentalists have begun to ask, “which country will lead the effort to keep global temperature increase in the 21st century below two degrees Celsius?” On April 25, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to the US Congress about the issue of global warming and appeared to put France forth as a potential successor on the global stage. Despite the divergence in political action on the issue, it appears that the difference in public opinion between the two countries is minimal. Forty percent of French respondents cited global warming as a top-three issue of concern, good for the third highest rate behind Spain (45%) and South Korea (40%). Meanwhile, the US follows not far behind with 37% of respondents expressing concern with global warming.
Determining the proper course of action against global warming is contentious, but this poll shows that there is little doubt that global respondents believe the world’s climate is changing in some way. Eighty-seven percent of respondents across the world believe the climate is changing compared to just 7% who think not and 7% who are unsure. Surprisingly, despite French respondents taking a place in the top three for rate of concern over global warming as an environmental issue, they also come in near the bottom of countries who agree that the climate is changing. Seventy-eight percent of French respondents agree with the statement, joining Germany (76%), Australia (76%), The United States (75%), and Japan (75%) in the bottom five.
Of course, global warming is not the only environmental issue. Ocean Conservancy estimates eight million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean as pollution each year, a byproduct of the 275 million metric tons of plastic waste produced, much of which is single-use and non-recyclable. When told about the potential impacts of plastic packaging, plastic bags, and other disposable, non-recyclable items, the vast majority of the world agrees that this is a concerning issues. Eighty percent of global respondents expressed some level of concern prompting the question. So, what should we do about the issue?
On a policy level, the plurality of global respondents (45%) pointed to increasing government spending to improve the range of recyclable items as a potentially effective solution. Thirty-one percent believe that taxing shops who use these products would be viable and 28% point to taxing the products themselves to round out the top three potential policy actions.
While policy makers debate the merits of possible actions against the plastic waste problem, individuals across the world are demonstrating a desire to take action themselves. More than half of worldwide respondents (53%) claim they would be willing to combat this issue by re-using disposable items. Buying products made from recycled materials comes in closely behind at 47% of respondents, demonstrating a viable market for firms making these “green” products.
For large scale issues, it is easy to blame just a portion of the problem: companies who produce one-use, non-recyclable plastic goods on a massive scale, consumers who are willing to pay companies for these products, or the government for not regulating the products. Despite this, the plurality of the world agrees that this issue is one for which all agents contributing to the problem should take responsibility. Thirty-seven percent of global respondents believe we should all equally share the responsibility for reducing the problem. This is followed by 20% of respondents who believe companies producing these products should take responsibility, 16% who believe it is the government’s responsibility, 10% who believe companies who sell these goods should be responsible, and just 8% who believe it is consumers who should lead the reduction effort.
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