People Won't Change for the Environment (on my campus)

A recent article outlines a pretty simplistic poll conducted in London about people’s willingness to change their behaviour for the good of the planet.

A straw poll of 15 British men and 15 British women between the ages of 25-75 in central London, showed all were willing to make small changes for the environment, such as recycling, but few would commit to more fundamental changes to behavior.

The outcome was pretty surprising. People will “try” to drive less, and others take a shot at proper recycling. But no one is ready for a change in their lifestyle. This inspired me. I was sure I could find better numbers and results here in Toronto, Canada. We are supposed to be eco-friendly up here, right?

Before I post my outcomes there is a tiny bit of background needed… first of all I’m an environmental studies student and some of these questions were asked IN the environmental studies buildings. So that probably skewed the numbers. I eventually moved to the university bookstore (and stood in front of Starre’s book!) and talked to the first year students scurrying around acting like this is the ONLY time to buy textbooks. Also for one question you should know that Toronto recently made a mandatory rule for all businesses… plastic bags are $0.05. It’s actually pretty effective, I know some stores are eliminating plastics entirely.

I was surprised at a couple of things. The first was that people will pay attention to turning lights off in their house, but they don’t really intend on taking things any further. I also found it interesting at home back and forth people were. Some people came off at first as being pretty eco-friendly and then would surprise me with an answer or two. A lot of people didn’t understand the relevance of me asking them if they would stop eating meat. And the last thing that surprised me was that the only question people answered quickly and I didn’t get an “I don’t know” from was when I asked them if they would reduce their consumption of personal items (clothing, electronics…etc). That was a deal breaker for a lot of people.

Suffice to say I was a tad bit disappointed with my campus. I know this isn’t the best way to test the eco-friendly feel of my university, but I thought I was in the generation devoted to change. I guess there’s still a lot of work to do. Like the article I previously linked I came out with the understanding that people will turn off a light (if they remember), they might not complain for paying for plastic bags… but they won’t stop eating meat and they won’t reduce their personal consumption to nearly small enough to make the necessary changes in the world, they won’t grow their own food and they probably won’t stop eating meat.

So here were my questions with responses (this was a simple drill and I had to keep it short because people aren’t very patient in Toronto…). I talked to 50 people all between the ages of 17 – 27:

1. How important is the well being of the environment to you
Very important 11
Somewhat important 26
Not important 13

2. Do you conduct small life changes that you have been told are good for the environment
yes 19
no 15
maybe 10
dont know 6

3. Would you grow your own food?
yes 5
no 33
maybe 7
dont know 4

4. Would you cut down your personal consumption (clothes, cds, electronics) by a quarter
yes 32
no 17
maybe 1
dont know 0

5. Would you cut down your personal consumption (clothes, cds, electronics) by a half
yes 9
no 36
maybe 5
dont know 0

6. Do you go out of your want to conserve energy at home?
yes 30
no 16
maybe 1
dont know 3

7. Would you stop eating meat
yes 5
no 37
maybe 5
dont know 3

8. Would you pay more to invest in ecologically friendly products
yes 10
no 22
maybe 6
dont know 12

9. gender
male 23
female 24
other 1
prefer not to answer 1

10. What do you think of Toronto’s new plastic bag policy?
Love it 14
Hate it 18
Dont care 2
Dont know 16

For interests sake, what is your major
Environmental studies 6
Political science/Law 4
English 2
Fine Arts 9
Social Science 12
Science 13
Business 4