Translating climate change awareness into climate change action

Climate protest in London, the United Kingdom

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Every two years since 2011, the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) has surveyed Singaporeans on their climate change perceptions, though for the first time this year (ST, Dec. 16) respondents were asked whether they “are prepared to play their part, even if they are expected to bear some additional costs and inconvenience as consumers”. Including this question, these were the three key findings (and the response options presented to the survey-takers):

  • 94.9 per cent have heard of, read, or come across the terms “climate change” and “global warming” (with probably dichotomous “yes” or “no” options);
  • 95.4 per cent support Singapore making a shift to a low carbon economy and 78.2 per cent supportive or in agreement with the cost-and-inconvenience question in the preceding paragraph (with dichotomous “supportive” and “not supportive” options); and
  • 60.9 per cent strongly believe that individual action makes a difference in fighting climate change (with probably Likert scale options ranging from “strongly believe” to “strongly do not believe”), and along this tangent the most common climate-friendly actions are water conservation (90.7 per cent), food wastage reductions and the tracking of food expiration (79.7 per cent), as well as switching off electrical appliances at the wall socket (91 per cent).

These positive trends, especially over time, are encouraging, yet there are questions about: First, the extent to which climate change awareness translates into climate change action, even with the fairly superficial comparison between the 94.9 per cent who are aware and the 60.9 per cent who strongly believe in individual action; second, how the proportions may change if there are different response options; and third, whether there are other ways to measure climate change action.

Quoted in ST, climate champion Nor Lastrina Hamid articulates the first question eloquently:

“I am aware the respondents feel that the government still has the largest role to play in fighting climate change, and that community groups and non-government organisations have the smallest role to play.

“What it does not tell me is in what role or capacity we all played in, and how that contributed to people’s awareness of climate action. I wonder how we can better engage members of the public, be it in terms of outreach, capacity-building, or having something more strategic to push for policy changes.

“What can non-government organisations do to help people transit from being aware to actually feeling care for the environment and taking climate action?” added Ms Lastrina, calling on NCCS to release more detailed findings from the survey.

Second, almost all the respondents said they were willing to bear some additional costs and inconvenience as consumers. But exactly how much cost and inconvenience? The dichotomous “supportive” and “not supportive” options mean that nuance might be lost, since some of the respondents may not be completely for or against, and at the same time – in addition to considerations of trade-offs, between immediate individual cost or convenience savings and long-term, collective well-being – they do not adequately capture the actual behaviours or actions of Singaporeans.

This highlights the importance of the third question, of exploring other ways – beyond surveys per se, which are likely to be riddled with self-response and social desirability biases – to measure climate change action. For instance, 90.7 per cent (up from 85.8 per cent in 2017) said they were saving more water and 79.7 per cent (up from 77.6 per cent in 2017) said they reduced food wastage and tracked food expiration, yet, respectively, what do their actual water and grocery bills look like? Without such complementary data and information, climate change awareness will remain as such: Just awareness.

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