‘Helpless, angry, stressed, apathetic’: How people in Wales said they felt about climate change and efforts to tackle it

The United Nations climate change conference may have decamped from Glasgow and the activists rolled up their banners, but the eye-watering changes needed to rewire our economy to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet are becoming clearer.

Fossil fuels, which have raised living standards but caused temperatures to rise, are embedded in so many products, from the cement needed for new homes to the gas boilers to heat them, the plastic in our cars to the petrol to power them, the fertilisers on our farms, the steel in our wind turbines. The list is endless.

The UK has reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions, although this is partly the result of a rise in the proportion of goods we buy being manufactured overseas.

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In the background the UK power sector has made big strides in decarbonising, but this barely registers on the average person’s radar – we switch our kettle on every morning, and the water boils.

However, the move to costly electric cars and alternatives to gas central heating are becoming talking points.

And the buying up of Welsh farmland by investors to plant trees to offset emissions from companies far away is becoming deeply resented.

As the COP26 conference in Glasgow again showed, it is all a huge challenge for politicians, who mostly operate on short electoral cycles.

The pledges made don’t go far enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5C – the point beyond which experts worry that irreversible change could happen.

On the plus side, countries will meet next year to pledge further greenhouse gas cuts, and increased financial help was finally put forward at Glasgow for developing countries. There were agreements on reducing methane – a particularly potent greenhouse gas – and protecting rainforests.

Trillions of pounds of private finance was also ready to fund the transition to a greener economy, according to former Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

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Many people may yearn for as yet undefined technological fix – the equivalent of a climate vaccine to enable us to lurch onwards – but until then politicians may have to make some unpopular decisions to match their words with action.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked people in Carmarthen and Swansea if they had followed the COP26 summit – most hadn’t, several said they found the news too depressing – and other questions related to climate change.

Do you think the UK is doing enough to tackle climate change?

“No, not really.” Pat and Frank Perry, 72 and 75, of Llanelli.

“Too much, compared to the rest of the world.” Matt Price, 46, of Llandeilo.

“I think they are pressing for changes, but I honestly don’t know.” Tom Brinkworth, 21, a student living in Carmarthen.

“I’ve noticed more people driving electric cars and things like that, and individuals are definitely more aware of trying to live a greener life, but the big companies and corporations need to be held to account.” Megan Finch, 22, of Ammanford.

“I’m not sure, to be honest.” Becky Rose, 34, of Aberystwyth.

“I think too much, for the size of country we are. I think we are making a rod for our own backs.” Chris Dzioba, 67, of Carmarthen.

“I would say the UK is not doing enough, and the western world in general, when we have contributed the most to climate change.” Owen Houngavou, 20, a student living in Swansea.

“The answer would be no. I think the man on the street is not doing enough.” Ross Humphreys, 63, of Clase, Swansea.

“I think the UK should look to do more, but sending sewage into the oceans is not the right way to do it.” Brent Lewis, 57, of Swansea Marina.

“I don’t think we are. It’s easy to say it’s not our problem now.” Tamanna Norr, 21, of Swansea.

“That’s a difficult one – I don’t know enough about it.” Ryan Evans, 26, of Cardiff.

“I would same the same – I don’t really know enough,” Emily Gadsby, 24, of Cardiff.

Would you put climate change in your top three list of issues to tackle?

“Yes, definitely.” Pat and Frank Perry.

“No.” Matt Price.

“I would say so, yes.” Tom Brinkworth.

“Yeah, definitely,” Megan Finch.

“I wouldn’t, no, there’s too much else going on.” Becky Rose.

“I would put it in the top three. Something has got to be sorted out, especially if I was living by the coast.” Chris Dzioba.

“I would put it fourth, after class, gender and race. Climate change affects people disproportionately, and poorer people tend to be affected more.” Owen Houngavou.

“Definitely, yes.” Ross Humphreys.

“One hundred per cent, yes – it’s pointless building new houses if they’re going to be underwater in 10 years.” Brent Lewis.

“I think I would,” Tamanna Norr.

“Yes, definitely.” Ryan Evans.

“For sure, yes.” Emily Gadsby.

Would you vote for politicians who introduced climate change measures which made things more expensive?

“They are trying to do that anyway by forcing people to buy electric cars. It’s all right for people who can afford it.” Pat and Frank Perry.

“It’s not a straightforward yes or no answer. I don’t think people have an issue with things being more expensive. There are just too many humans on this planet.” Matt Price.

“Yes, if they can deliver well-structured plans and are not mucking people about.” Tom Brinkworth.

“I would, yeah.” Megan Finch.

“No – we are single parents, it’s hard enough as it is.” Becky Rose.

“I don’t think I would vote for them just on that basis.” Chris Dzioba.

“I think I would, but if I was paying the same for them as a millionaire I think that would be unreasonable.” Owen Houngavou.

“I would personally, but whether it would happen? You know what politicians are like.” Ross Humphreys.

“Who pays? The money men or the common man?” Brent Lewis.

“I think things should be more expensive because of the damage caused (in their production).” Tamanna Norr.

“It depends what it was, but yes.” Ryan Evans.

“Yes, I would.” Emily Gadsby.

Climate change campaigners at a rally in Swansea to coincide with COP26 in Glasgow
(Image: Richard Youle)

Have you or would you consider flying less, driving less, and eating less meat to try to make a difference?

“We do all of those.” Pat and Frank Perry.

“Eating less meat doesn’t come into it. We live in a northern hemisphere country. We grow grass, we get rain. What converts that grass into protein effectively? Livestock. Flying? Yes, I don’t fly any more.” Matt Price.

“Flying – maybe yes. Driving-wise, that’s going to be a problem. People need to do it. Meat? I think that can be met in the middle.” Tom Brinkworth.

“I try to be plant-based whenever I can, and I know a lot of veggies. I hardly fly. I’ve only just passed my driving test. I know my mum is considering an electric car.” Megan Finch.

“I’ve never flown in an aircraft, I don’t drive, and I’m quite fussy what I eat.” Becky Rose.

“I don’t fly a lot. I don’t eat much meat, and I don’t travel a lot like I used to with work.” Chris Dzioba.

“I don’t fly much anyway, and I don’t eat that much meat either.” Owen Houngavou.

“I don’t really take the car anywhere. I don’t fly much. I’ve just started eating less meat, for medical reasons.” Ross Humphreys.

“I haven’t flown for 10 years. I can take public transport for my new job. I’ve never been a big meat-eater.” Brent Lewis.

“I have cut down on my meat consumption, and I don’t really fly much.” Tamanna Norr.

“I’m eating less meat, and I’m trying to work from the office less – I have to drive there.” Ryan Evans.

“I eat a lot less meat. Flying less, that’s difficult. I love holidays.” Emily Gadsby.

How does climate change make you feel?

“A little bit too late. It’s very sad to see the suffering it causes, especially for island nations.” Pat and Frank Perry.

“We need to change. We are causing too many problems for the environment. But it’s frustrating, no-one is clamping down on places like Brazil, which is clearing land for food. We need huge investment in alternative sources of power, and we need to go back down the nuclear route. Green energy will only go so far.” Matt Price.

“It does make me feel depressed. India and China are the least willing to change their ways, and they are the worst for emissions.” Megan Finch.

“It makes me a bit depressed when you see pictures of houses being flooded and people losing their homes.” Chris Dzioba.

“When you regularly get exposed to it, it’s similar to political apathy. But I know I have a sense of responsibility.” Owen Houngavou.

“Frustrated, very angry, especially about the Amazon rainforest. It seems money rules the world.” Ross Humphreys.

“It annoys me because of the hypocrisy.” Brent Lewis.

“It makes me feel really helpless. There’s only so much we can do.” Tamanna Norr.

“Too little too late – a sense of disappointment.” Ryan Evans.

“I would say stressed. It’s kind of scary what could happen, and what will happen.” Emily Gadsby.

Check the weather for your area:

Swansea Council has surveyed people for the first time about climate change. The overwhelming majority of people who responded were worried about it.

Cancelling the popular Wales National Airshow was even suggested as a way of making a difference.

The council received 967 responses to a set of questions it asked the public, with 64% of respondents saying they were very concerned and 29% fairly concerned about climate change.

And 64% of those who replied said they were prepared to make changes to help Swansea become a “net zero” city by 2050, which the council wants to encourage.

Net zero means emissions would be driven down, with remaining ones offset via tree-planting and renewable energy schemes.

A cabinet report about the survey findings said: “There was a huge variety of passionate, intelligent but often conflicting suggestions. The tension between the need for development to meet the need of a growing population and protection of the natural environment and resources was another recurring theme.”

Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents said they had made conscious changes to reduce their carbon footprint since the Covid pandemic. But people called for more information, plus grants and funding, to make the changes needed for net zero.

The council itself wants to become a net zero authority by 2030 in areas it has control over, such as planning and council vehicles, and so the survey specifically listed 10 actions and asked people about them. Respondents strongly agreed that increasing tree planting and biodiversity would have a big impact, plus using technology to reduce emissions caused by heating and lighting council buildings such as schools.

Additional comments from people ranged from scrapping the air show to rolling out electric buses and taxis.

The report will be discussed by cabinet on November 18.

The council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and, earlier this month, a nature emergency. Its greenhouse gas emissions associated with fleet transport, street lighting and heating its buildings dropped by nearly 16% in 2020-21 compared to the previous year, although Covid had a big part to play in this decline.

The Labour administration has consistently said that more central Government funding would enable the council to implement further changes at pace and scale.

The cabinet report said the climate change survey response rate was high, which chimed with trends in national polling.

It said: “Despite the universally life-changing impact of Covid-19, the rising equalities debate and Brexit, respondents clearly see climate change as real and pressing concern.”

It added: “Comments often referenced the need for an evidence-based, logical approach based on science and research.”

The media cycle has moved on from Glasgow, notwithstanding the widespread coverage given by many news outlets.

Scientists, innovators and green entrepreneurs will be galvanised to focus even more on research and solutions.

But unless the 51 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted by the world each year is reduced, the temperature will keep on rising and potential tipping points loom ever closer.

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WalesOnline – Swansea