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Over a decade ago, anthropogenic climate change was still a contentious topic even in mainstream media, while politicians at best ignored the issue. As a result, a large portion of Polish society either belittled the problem of climate change or outright denied its existence. However, a recent public opinion survey conducted by Kantar on behalf of "Gazeta Wyborcza" shows a major shift in the attitude of Poles towards climate change and environmental protection.

Climate anxiety in Poland

Our latest survey shows that the attitudes towards climate change are... changing. Maybe it's because of the snowless, warm winters; maybe it's the dramatic floods across our western border or the fact that ever more scientific reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are finding their way into mainstream media outlets.

When asked whether they are "concerned about climate change", 41% of respondents said "rather yes", while 43 % answered with "definitely yes". That gives us a total of 84% of respondents concerned with the state of the planet, compared to 14% who downplay the problem.

Only 30% of respondents believe that reports about climate change are "artificially inflated," while 6 in 10 respondents disagree with that statement.

- 84% of Poles are concerned about climate change, and 93% are making at least some effort to limit their negative impact on the environment. This is a very satisfying result. It shows that environmental awareness has become widespread (how deep that awareness really is, is a different question). Whether we like it or not, we live in a world defined by climate change and environmental devastation, we worry about it, and we think about it in our everyday choices. Almost everyone thinks about it and worries about it at least sometimes – comments Dr Magdalena Budziszewska from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Warsaw. She is the former head of the advisory team for the climate-ecological crisis at the University of Warsaw.

There are slightly more women among those who say that climate change worries them. But the study disproves the popular belief that climate catastrophe worries especially young people because it directly affects their future. Among respondents aged 18-24 and 25-29, 72% and 73% respectively say they are concerned about climate change. Meanwhile, the figure for older respondents is as high as 91% (responses "rather yes" and "definitely yes" in the 41-49 and 60+ age groups). Similarly, concern for the state of the planet is not dependent on the level of education. Responses are distributed more or less equally in each group. The situation looks similar in terms of the place of residence: rural residents respond similarly to residents of large cities and are even more aware of climate change than those who live in small towns.

Wiosenny Marsz Klimatyczny w WarszawieWiosenny Marsz Klimatyczny w Warszawie ADAM STĘPIEŃ

- Surprisingly, in Poland, older adults turn out to be slightly more worried than others. This is unlike the rest of the world, where concern about climate issues is significantly higher among younger people. This may be due to deficiencies in education. Older people and residents of rural areas, who declared an exceptionally high level of concern about climate-related problems, may also have had a long time to observe changes in the natural environment and more life experience to understand how alarming such changes are - assesses Dr Budziszewska.

Poles expect the government and big business to act on climate change

In general, Poles seem to be climate optimists. 76% believe that a climate catastrophe can still be avoided. However, Dr Budziszewska points to the other side of the coin - that almost one in five respondents (19%) no longer has any hope that governments will rise to the occasion and stop further emissions and the resulting climate devastation.

- It’s important to take note of the growing concern, shared by nearly 20% of all respondents, that the climate catastrophe can no longer be stopped. In this group of people, concerned with the worst-case scenario, there are more young people and more men. If we fail to slow down climate change, it will threaten the world's political stability, financial stability, job stability, virtually everything we know, and that could lead to armed conflicts. Other research shows that young people don't trust governments or adults to do enough to protect the climate and take care of their future. They also expect to be generally worse off than older generations. Not all young people are concerned about climate change, but among younger respondents, there is an exceptionally large subgroup of people who see the issue more radically than older adults, who in turn distrust the current order or who find it difficult to remain hopeful in the current situation- says Dr Magdalena Budziszewska.  

In our survey, we also asked the respondents to tell us who in their opinion bears primary responsibility for the state of the environment. Only 49% mentioned personal responsibility to a high or significant degree. 62% pointed to the government as the main actor responsible for the environment (42% said it is responsible to a significant degree). People are even more willing to place responsibility for the state of the environment on big businesses and manufacturers. Here, as many as 70% chose to indicate the two highest scores on the scale, while only 6% of the respondents felt that business has no responsibility for the environment.

Katastrofalna powódź - zatopione wrocławskie osiedle Kozanów, 1997Katastrofalna powódź - zatopione wrocławskie osiedle Kozanów, 1997 Fot. Mieczysław Michalak / Agencja Gazeta

How are Poles taking care of the environment?

A vast majority of Polish people declare they are concerned about the state of the environment, but how are they taking care of it? 9 out of 10 respondents say they try to reduce their impact on the environment and demand the same from businesses and large corporations. But when you look at everyday actions, the percentage drops. Asked if they take into account the company's pro-environmental activities when shopping, only 25 % respond with a "definite yes" (42% "rather yes").

While an overwhelming majority of Poles are willing to segregate waste (97%) and reduce the use of plastic (95%), only 77% pay attention to choosing products without plastic packaging. Moreover, some find it difficult to give up their cars. Asked whether they would "give up their car if it were possible", 28% responded negatively. On the other hand, as many as 68 % declared they would give up their car. 46 % said they would limit their meat consumption, while 51% said they would not.

According to the survey results, we learn about climate and the environment mainly from television, and less frequently from books or scientific studies. The majority (82%) admit that the use of fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) contributes to environmental degradation, as does smog and related emissions (92%).

Not so long ago, it was still common to deny that the rapid climate change is mainly human-caused. Now, the majority admits that the extinction of species (91% of answers being "rather yes" and "definitely yes"), forest fires (86%), or droughts (80%), are the effect of human activity.

What is causing the most fear?

What is it about climate change that Poles are most afraid of? Let's take a look at the responses to the question about the most worrying phenomena in terms of the state of the environment. Plastic pollution is mentioned most often, on a par with hurricanes, fires, and floods (42%). Smog is mentioned by a third of the respondents, while droughts and water shortages seem to be less of a concern (28%). Interestingly, the disappearance of traditional seasons is mentioned least often (11%).

On the other hand, 64% of respondents are afraid of mass migration of people from areas affected by climate disasters, while 77% are afraid of floods and extreme weather events.

***

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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