With the country burning and otherwise “quiet Australians” crying for action, it’s worth asking: what do Australians really think about climate change?
It’s just nine months since Labor was defeated in what it dubbed “the climate change election”. This was read as a warning to politicians on both sides not to stick their necks out on climate action.
But does this narrative reflect how the country really feels? Just after the election, we asked 54,000 Australians what climate action they want — and when — through the Australia Talks National Survey.
While the bushfire crisis may have shifted opinion somewhat, this data provides a baseline of our attitudes.
If Australia were 100 people, represented here with 100 dots, this is how we’d feel about climate change.
Seventy-two of us rate climate change as a problem for us personally.
It’s the problem facing the largest number of us personally, above saving for retirement (62 concerned) and health (56 concerned).
But 27 of us say we’re not losing any sleep over climate change — 10 women and 17 men.
Queensland has the highest proportion of people who say climate’s not a problem for them personally, at 35 per cent.
But climate change is still the issue keeping Queenslanders up at night more than any other.
There is no state or territory where climate doesn’t rate as the most common concern.
If we look only at Australians who voted for the Morrison Government in last year’s election, a majority say climate is a problem for them personally.
Only one other issue tops climate among Liberal and Nationals voters — saving for retirement (55 per cent), and only by one percentage point.
Climate rates above Coalition priorities including terrorism (48 per cent), crime (42 per cent) and immigration (33 per cent).
The most common view among Australians is that “climate change has been established as a serious problem and immediate action is necessary”, with 60 of us feeling that way.
Another 24 of us agree climate change is taking place but feel that “some action” should be taken.
That’s 84 in favour of at least some action and 15 who think no action is warranted.
Of the 15 who’d like to hit pause on climate action, 10 are men and five are women.
Of that same group — those who don’t see the need for action — 11 voted for the Coalition and the other four for minor parties and independents. There are no Greens or Labor voters.
But while a higher proportion of Coalition voters than average think we shouldn’t take further action, this is still a minority view among Liberal and Nationals voters.
Their most common view is that some action should be taken, and “immediate action is necessary” isn’t far behind.
If we look at One Nation voters (who represent 3.1 per cent of the primary vote nationally) a majority say we shouldn’t take action.
Most Australians want to see action on climate change, but do we think it will actually happen?
The most common belief among Australians is that we will have to change our lifestyles to reduce energy consumption.
The second most common view is that Australia won’t do anything to tackle climate change.
Almost one in five of us think scientists will solve it, while 10 per cent reckon we’ll adapt to a warmer climate.
Far more young people have hope that companies and government researchers will develop new technologies to solve climate change.
While more older Australians believe we will learn to live with and adapt to a warmer climate.
Australians who voted for the Morrison Government are the most optimistic, with a higher proportion than average believing both in a technological solution and that humans will adapt to a warmer climate.
Greens voters and young people are the most despairing, with 38 per cent of Greens supporters thinking Australia won’t do anything about climate change.
We asked Australians which energy sources they would like to see the country rely on more.
A whopping 83 of us would like to see Australia rely more on solar power, while 68 would like to see more wind and 62 more hydro power.
Keep in mind, we asked about each energy source individually — not in comparison to each other. So some people will be represented in all three of these groups.
Other energy sources tend to divide us.
Thirty-four of us would like to see more nuclear power.
Twenty-five of them are men and nine are women.
Three of us want to see more oil.
Twelve would like more coal and 19 think more gas should be in the mix.
Overall, women are keener for solar and wind than men, and men are more enthusiastic about coal, gas and nuclear than women. But a large majority of both genders want to see more renewables.
A majority of those who voted in the Morrison Government want to see more renewables, but they’re also more supportive of coal and gas than most Australians.
Almost half of Coalition voters want more nuclear.
Support for more coal is low overall but gets a boost in regional and rural Queensland.
And while the Coalition may have picked up support there through its backing of the Adani mine, those areas still tend to favour boosting renewables more strongly than extra coal.
It’s clear that Australians want to see more renewables. Yet renewables make up just 6 per cent of our energy mix (that’s all the energy we use in Australia — not just electricity).
And while 97 of us don’t want to see more oil, its share of our energy mix is growing, offsetting the fall in coal.
On average, Australians say they’d personally spend a few hundred bucks more each year to help prevent climate change.
A majority of all income groups were willing to pay at least something, even Australians with a household income under $600 a week.
ALP and Greens voters were far more willing to spend their own money to help prevent climate change than One Nation and Coalition voters.
Still, a majority of those who voted for the Morrison Government were prepared to chip in.
Even a third of Australians who said that climate change was not a problem for them personally were willing to cough up some of their own money to prevent it.
The Australia Talks National Survey captured how Australians felt shortly after they voted in the Morrison Government.
Recent polls suggest the broad support for climate action has strengthened with the catastrophic bushfire season.
A January poll by YouGov for the Australia Institute found 79 per cent were concerned about climate change, up 5 percentage points from a similar poll in July.
When it came to the Government’s response, 53 per cent felt the Coalition had not done a good job of “managing the climate crisis”.
An Essential poll last week asked respondents which climate policies they’d support: boosting renewable energy came out on top with 81 per cent support.
A slim majority of Coalition voters were also prepared to support a zero-carbon target for 2050 (but not 2030), mining companies funding bushfire hazard reduction and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he’s not willing to review Australia’s emissions reduction targets but will work with the states on new energy deals that might bring emissions down.
But the data suggest Australians, including a large slab of his voter base, are willing to support strong action on climate change.
Climate change is the problem facing the largest number of Australians personally, according to the Australia Talks National Survey. To see how your views compare, use our interactive tool — available in English, simplified Chinese, Arabic and Vietnamese.
Reporter and digital producer: Annika Blau
About the data
This data came from the Australia Talks National Survey, conducted by the ABC and Vox Pop Labs, which was fielded to 54,000 Australians in July 2019. The survey data was weighted using sex, age, education level, language of use, State, geographical region and voting choice in the 2019 Federal election, to offer a representative sample of the Australian population.
Where the clusters represented in the graphics add to less than 100 per cent, we have chosen not to illustrate answers such as “don’t know” or “neutral” for simplicity.
For more information on how the Australia Talks National Survey was conducted see our explainer.
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This is part of a series on climate change from the ABC News Story Lab. In our next piece, we’ll find out: can we convince you there’s still a way to halt catastrophic climate change?
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