Climate ChangeScience

Misconceptions About Climate Action: A Closer Look

A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll revealed that a slim majority of Americans believe their individual actions can reduce the effects of climate change, but many are misinformed about which actions are most effective. For example, most people believe recycling has a significant impact on climate change, while three-quarters think not eating meat or dairy would have little or no effect. However, climate experts say these beliefs are incorrect.

The poll found that nearly 60% of Americans think recycling will have a lot or some impact on climate change, second only to installing solar panels. However, experts say these actions are unlikely to make much of a difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that evaluates climate solutions, said these are not really climate solutions. People tend to overestimate the climate benefits of recycling, and while it can help the environment by reducing waste, it doesn’t make it a climate solution.

On the other hand, experts said flying less and cutting out meat and dairy are among the best steps people can take, but most Americans don’t realize that. Project Drawdown estimates that if three-quarters of people worldwide adopted a plant-rich diet by 2050, they could avoid the release of more than 100 gigatons of emissions. Foley said that cutting down on red meat is both a healthy dietary choice and a way to reduce emissions.

Experts and Americans agree that installing solar panels can help fight climate change. More than 60% of Americans say doing so would reduce their climate impact at least to some degree. Other effective measures include driving an electric car, using a heat pump, and living in a smaller house or apartment.

Despite these findings, Americans have grown less confident that their individual actions can reduce the effects of climate change. In 2019, 66% said they could personally make a difference, a number that has fallen to 52% this year, with the sharpest declines among Republicans and independents. Some experts say these feelings are not unfounded, as individual actions can only go so far. The most important thing anybody can do is to vote for a climate-friendly government agenda, said Chris Field, director of Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability scientist at Lund University in Sweden, said the United States is home to some of the wealthiest people in the world, and they have a responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint. “Ninety percent of the world doesn’t need to reduce their emissions, but most readers of The Washington Post probably do,” she said.

The poll was conducted by The Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement from July 13 to 23, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Kernel Reporter

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