Saturday, 14 November 2009

Climate change not our problem, say UK voters

Today’s Times leads with a new Populus poll that shows a high level of public scepticism about human-made climate change. Only 41 per cent of respondents believe that climate change is happening and that human causation is an established fact. A third of the public believes in the fact of climate change but remains unpersuaded that it is caused by humans. Nearly one in ten people believes that climate change is a purely natural phenomenon and blaming humans is propaganda put about by environmentalists. Fifteen per cent of the country simply do not accept that climate change is happening at all.

The figures underline the difficulties this government (and its successors) will have in persuading the public to accept tough policy measures – especially higher green taxes - to help in meeting Britain’s legally binding emissions targets.

OK, what’s new? Public opinion polls over the last three years have shown that a growing number of people in the UK are becoming increasingly sceptical of the impact of human activities on climate change or that they question the impacts of global warming on the climate. [Click here, here and here]. The British public’s suspicion of green taxes is also well documented [click here]. Yet today’s poll shows an increase in support compared with three years ago for new taxes on air travel intended to reduce the number of flights people take, and for raising the cost of motoring to encourage people to drive less.

Perhaps I protest too much. Politicos and ideologues of all stripes have become very tetchy over the past 25-plus years when I have tried to point out that opinion surveys show that most people don’t agree with them (or, to be more precise, that their pet issue won’t necessarily deliver scores of seats to the NZ Labour Party / Liberal Democrats). So I should tread carefully today and take the stark new evidence of public scepticism at face value. Today’s poll figures should concern all climate realists, especially after as the science has become steadily more pessimistic over recent years and received considerable media coverage.

Actually, I believe the gloomy science and media shock explain much of the public pushback. In today’s Times, Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, is quoted as saying that growing awareness of the scale of the problem appeared to be resulting in people taking refuge in denial.

“Being confronted with the possibility of higher energy bills, wind farms down the road and new nuclear power stations encourages people to question everything about climate change,” she said. “There is a resistance to change and some people see the problem being used as an excuse to charge them more taxes.”

I agree with Vicky Pope but the denial syndrome goes even deeper than she suggests. This is a question of basic values and psychology as much as power bills and green taxes. The rhetoric used to discuss climate change usually revolves around threats and dangers, with “looming environmental disaster” the dominant frame. But we live in an aspirational, consumerist society and it’s hardly surprising that so many people feel defensive when they hear talk of apocalypse and demands on them to make personal sacrifices. Some of their core values, their ways of looking at themselves and their lives are being directly challenged. People are being asked to take personal responsibility for something that is not yet evident in their daily lives. Talk of climate catastrophe does not always fit with their worldview - their personal narratives - and so it’s easier to play for time, expect others to take the blame, or block it out altogether.

Either way, it surely doesn’t help that politicians, scientists (intellectuals) and green groups – hardly the most liked or trusted groups - are doing a lot of the ‘challenging’. [click here]

I take three lessons for climate realists from The Times poll. First, we should start to use more frames, storylines and rhetoric that resonate with the way most people see the world. No, not dodging the truth about the science but talking more about about green growth, green jobs and the need to preserve our national and economic security. [click here]

Second, we need a wider range of advocates –for instance, more young women and more people from community groups – explaining the issues and making the case for change.

Third, it’s time to engage more with strategies for social change, learning more about the psychology of climate change and finding out how and why people change their minds and act on issues. Some progress has been made on the research side [click here and here] but we quickly need to turn this an action plan. Time is running out.


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w w said...

Please see this important news report by the Finnish Broadcasting Co. YLE, TV1 (Nov 11th 2009), in regards to the global warming debate:

neil craig said...

This has been the government policy for some time. Set up government funded fakecharities to issue indeopendent charitable reports calling for more government spending on global warming/smoking inspectors/salt etc etc. However no matter how much they spend on this or TV ads of drowning cartoons the facts remain the same - that catastrophic warming is a total lie maintained only by wholly corrupt eco-fascists & big state parasites & that there is not a single politician who is remotely hionest who supports it.

Ian Eiloart said...

I read your comment on my post. What proportion of the 32% do you think really believe that climate change is NOT man-made, and what proportion are undecided? And what proportion think that it's probably man-made, but not proven?

We're all familiar with different criteria for proof. Scientific proof (unattainable), proof in criminal courts (beyond reasonable doubt), proof in civil courts (on the balance of probabilities).

There's just so much room for interpretation that the Time's cannot assume that all of these people don't believe the proposition. Especially since those that believe the opposite were able to say so.

Me, I'm a scientist, so I'm in the "unproven, but overwhelmingly likely" camp.

neil craig said...

Setting exact numbers in stone for what will appear continuously in opinion polls is clearly not possible if you understand what opinion polls are. However the numbers are clearly substantial & more importantly, growing. The obvious reason for this being that though the advertising is intensifying the sea are not rising, the bunnies are not drowning & the globe is cooling.

Before deciding what standard of proof you think required lets see what, as a "scientist" you are actually semi-believing in. Do you actually claim as "unproven but overwhelmingly likely" Sir David King's assertion that by 2100 "the only habitable continent will be Antarctica" which implies at least 30 degrees, or do you prefer Al Gore's "20 ft sea level rise & south sea islands have already been evacuated" or would you go for Sir David King's more modrate "3 degrees by the end of the century" & be willing, like Al Gore, to buy beachfornt property?

Let me know what sort of catastrophic global warming you believe in & I will tell you why you are wrong.