The Heat Is Online

Developing Countries Far More Concerned about Warming than US, UK

Global warming fears rise in developing world

Financial Times, Aug. 30, 2011

Consumers in the developed world are becoming increasingly apathetic about global warming, while Latin Americans – who have suffered much from unusual weather patterns – are becoming more concerned, according to a survey.

Nielsen’s global study of online consumers comes as scientists and politicians, among others, debate the role of global warming in the severity of Hurricane Irene, which lashed the American east coast over the weekend.

According to the global data and information consultancy’s findings, the US recorded one of the steepest declines in concern about global warming: less than half of Americans polled fret about climate change and only 58 per cent of Brits.

By contrast, 90 per cent of Latin Americans are concerned, up from 85 per cent in 2009, and 93 per cent of Thais. Concern in China and Russia also exceeds that in the UK.

Dr Maxwell T. Boykoff, senior visiting research associate from Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and adviser on the survey, attributes waning interest in the western world to a return to more immediate personal concerns.

“Focus on immediate worries such as job security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years,” he said.

“In the face of other pressing concerns, a public ‘caring capacity’ for climate change has been tested.”

Fiscal and economic concerns have also nudged green issues lower down the political agenda. Some politicians go further still. Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, for example, dismisses the theory that global warming is caused by human impact.

But while those in North America are more focused on the price of gas in their tanks and the state of the country’s finances, south of the border, climate change worries are rising. This is fuelled by natural disasters on their own doorstep, said Arturo García, Nielsen’s president for the region.

“People are expressing clear concern about unusual weather patterns including increased rainfall, hurricanes, and floods in some parts of Latin America, and severe drought in others,” he said.

Similarly, consumers in Asia Pacific are most focused on the environmental issues closest to home, including water shortages and air pollution.
The findings, garnered from more than 25,000 respondents in 51 countries, come as manufacturers of consumer goods are ratcheting up their sustainability credentials – in part, to win over shoppers buying their products.

The likes of Nestle, the world’s biggest food company by sales, drinks makers Coca-Cola and PepsiCo and Anglo-Dutch Unilever, are all pursuing policies that range from reduced packaging to cutting water usage to sourcing sustainably-produced raw materials.

But Nielsen notes that consumers’ desire to see companies do the right thing by the environment – 83 per cent of global online consumers want to see companies implement such strategies – is not replicated at the cash register.

Only around one-fifth are prepared to pay more for an eco-friendly product. Those in the Middle East and Africa are the most willing: one-third are ready to dig deeper in their pockets compared with just 12 per cent of Americans and Canadians.

  Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.