Czechs want to protect environment – but can’t agree on how

A recent public opinion survey of Czech attitudes to environmental issues suggests that, on the whole, Czechs care about the environment and most do not doubt that anthropogenic climate change is happening. But when it comes to concrete measures to combat it, they cannot agree.

“There is a clear consensus in Czech society that climate change is happening and that it is a problem. That environmental protection is necessary and that something needs to be done about it is also a widely held attitude. The questions of what should be done about it and when, however, are topics that people do not agree on so much.”

These are the words of Jitka Uhrová from the empirical research institute STEM, one of the two organisations behind the survey that came out this week, titled Česká (ne)transformace or Czech (non) transformation 2022. Taking into account past surveys, she says that this acceptance of climate change is relatively firmly embedded in Czech society by now.

The survey even found broad support for certain measures combatting climate change, such as renewable energy sources. But the question of how fast we need to act was one of the issues that threw up more diverse responses among the survey respondents, according to Jan Krajhanzl, a social psychologist from Institute 2050, the other organization behind the survey.

Jan Krajhanzl | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

“50% of people say they would like environmental protection to take place without delay. Even when we asked explicitly whether due to the problems that have arisen as a result of the war in Ukraine, there should be some kind of suspension of climate change measures, half of the respondents still said no. Another 15 to 20 percent of people say that climate protection should take place intensively within this decade."

The survey, which draws on the responses of over two thousand Czech residents over the age of 18, also found varying attitudes to how people viewed the country's transition to a green economy, based on which they categorised the population into six broad groups.

“The “optimistic supporters”, who make up between a fifth and a quarter of the Czech population, are the people who say 'we can do this, it opens up really great opportunities for us, we can manage economically and we can help each other in doing so’.”

Illustrative photo: Rawac,  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

Another roughly quarter of the population are more pessimistic supporters – they want to protect the environment and stop climate change, but they have concerns about whether the country can manage it economically. These two groups together comprise half of the Czech population, meaning 50% of Czechs are broadly speaking supportive of the country’s transition to cleaner sources of energy.

The next two groups, both of equal size, together make up a further roughly 25% of the population.

“The third group is the undecided, comprising roughly 13% of the Czech population. These are people that are unsure and do not have a strong opinion on the transition to a low-carbon economy. They are fairly positive about environmental protection on the whole, but they still have a lot of concerns.”

The next group, again making up about 13% of the population, has even more fears and reservations. Among these people there is still broad consensus on renewable energy sources, insulation, and environmental protection – but when it comes to the Green Deal and the transition to a low-carbon economy, they react with much more distrust, says Jan Krajhanzl.

Then there is roughly 20% of Czech society whom the sociologists involved in the survey have described as staunch opponents to climate change policy measures.

“This group rejects anything explicitly related to the transition to a low-carbon economy in all its forms. However, I would emphasize again that even this group supports renewable resources, energy saving, insulation, and so on. But when it comes to political policy issues, they are clearly the firmest opponents.”

Illustrative photo: Liz West,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

The remaining roughly 7% of respondents make up the sixth group, who are simply indifferent to climate issues.

For the average person, the topic of transformation to a low-carbon economy is very complex, says Jan Krajhanzl, and most do not understand it, as evidenced by the low awareness of the Green Deal for Europe among respondents.

“Nine out of ten Czechs say they know little or nothing about the Green Deal. When it comes to specific issues like: 'What is carbon neutrality?'; 'What environmental commitments has the Czech Republic made?'; 'What do you know about the ban on combustion engines?'; 'Is inflation the main thing influencing the price of energy or is it mainly caused by other factors?', then only about 15 to 20% of the population can answer these fundamental questions correctly.”

Photo: Fabrice Florin,  Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

The survey’s authors say in their summary that this lack of public awareness results in rather vague ideas about the proportions and effectiveness of particular measures, which in absence of real knowledge, are often evaluated heuristically according to the person’s overall attitude towards the transition.

In general, the survey found that measures involving financial support or subsidies are welcomed by the population, while taxation and prohibitions have a low degree of acceptability.

Although the researchers found that the Czech population has a very positive attitude overall towards the protection of nature, landscape and the environment, they remind policymakers in their conclusions that concerns about the economic and social impacts of the transition to a low-carbon economy and the speed with which these changes could take place represent a major barrier to its successful implementation. Transformation won’t be acceptable to the general public without a well-thought-out plan of how to deal with its social consequences, the authors warn – and without acceptance, no transformation can take place at all.