The Policy Institute at King’s College London has published a report on what the UK public knows about environmental issues.  Its title is: Britons hugely underestimate how hot planet has become and how much plastic waste is in the environment which neatly captures the problem.  The study was accompanied by the publication of The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything by Professor Bobby Duffy of the Policy Institute, reveals that most of us recognise the seriousness of the threat to the global climate – and that we mostly see the lack of concern as caused by other people, rather than ourselves.

Here are some examples of the findings:

Plastic waste

The public are very wrong about what has happened to the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste that has been created globally. Britons’ average guesses are that:

    • 26% is recycled, almost three times the reality of just 9%.
    • 25% is incinerated, double the reality of 12%.
    • 49% is still in the environment in landfill or as litter, when 79% is actually left like this.


Only a third (33%) of the public correctly think that the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles in the world has fallen by 60% since 1970, which is the WWF estimate.

Greenhouse gas emissions

The public massively underestimate the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions generated globally by electricity and heat production: on average, they guess 21%, when 49% of emissions are actually generated this way.

We hugely overestimate the impact of air travel on global greenhouse gases, thinking it contributes 20% of emissions when in reality it’s just 2%.

We’re also very wrong about how much impact different actions have on greenhouse gas emissions:

    • We particularly overestimate the impact of recycling: 52% think it’s one of the top three most effective steps we can take to tackle climate change, when in reality it’s the seventh most effective step, according to a comprehensive academic study.
    • Having one fewer child is the most effective step, but just 21% put this in the top three, meaning the public rank it seventh overall.

You can download the report here.

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