How the Times distorted opinion on global warming poll


by Guest    
8:31 am - December 14th 2009

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contribution by Climate Sock

A few weeks ago The Times ran a story claiming a Times/Populus poll had found that only 41% of Britons think that global warming is man-made. Clearly I’d missed something dramatic that had brought about such a radical change in how people see climate change (and this was before any UEA emails came out).

Bear in mind that the sort of numbers we’re used to seeing on this question are between 80-90% thinking that climate change/global warming is at least partly man-made (see for example MORI’s Tipping Point report). A drop of this magnitude sounded pretty fishy to me.

Populus, very helpfully, provide a full break-down of the results on their website. If you have a look through the questions, there isn’t much controversial about the structure of the poll: it seems quite fairly set out, rather than having been rigged to lead respondents to answer one way or the other.

So if the poll itself is fine, what about the results? Here’s my own summary of the bit about perceptions of climate change/global warming:

  • Around 5 in 6 believe that climate change and global warming are taking place;
  • Only 23% disbelieve anthropogenic climate change;
  • Nearly 4 in 5 think that climate change is either very serious or the most serious problem we face.

This hardly matches the media reporting of the poll.

I initially heard the coverage on the Radio 4 news (being a hip kind of guy), and am aware of write-ups in the Times, Mail, and Scotsman. The Times article, headlined “Global warming is not our fault, say most voters in Times poll” is pretty typical of the tone they take.

Like the other articles, The Times report draws its conclusions from two questions. Firstly, it claims that less than half believe that human activity is to blame for global warming. This is true, but only if you exclude the 32% who agree that “There is a widespread theory that climate change is largely man-made but this has not yet been conclusively proved”.

It’s pretty unsophisticated to assert that when someone says they haven’t seen a theory “conclusively proved”, they therefore don’t believe it.

Secondly, the reports suggest that people don’t see climate change as a serious problem, citing only 28% who think both that it’s happening, and that it’s “far and away the most serious problem we face as a country and internationally”. Again, this is true, but discounts another 51% who think it’s happening and is “a very serious problem, but other problems are more important”. While the reports mention this figure, they drop the word ‘very’ – either misreading their own poll, or misrepresenting it to fit their story.

What’s more, The Times omits what’s probably the most interesting part of the poll: the questions on possible measures that could be agreed to at Copenhagen. It tested six different actions, yielding the following net levels of support ((% supporting) – (% opposing)):

  • New building regulations for all new houses to meet the highest standards of insulation & make more use of renewal energy such as solar power, even if this increases the cost of new home: +76%
  • Setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if this results in higher prices for manufactured goods and energy: +43%
  • Much higher taxes on cars that use a lot of petrol and emit a lot of carbon dioxide: +39%
  • New taxes on air travel with the aim of reducing the number of flights people take: +17%
  • Increasing the cost of meat, because the farming of cows and pigs is a major contributor to methane emissions, a cause of climate change: -9%
  • Increasing the cost of motoring to encourage people to drive less: -9%

So a poll finds strong support for more regulation and higher taxes, and only weak opposition to increasing the cost of everyday expenses, but The Times chooses not to report that part.

The most irritating part of this is that – just as we saw with the IPPR report – the media coverage of these polls appears to be framed entirely by whoever writes the first press release or summary article.

It didn’t take me long to look through the Populus file to find contradictory and far more interesting results than the Times reported. But all the coverage, including on the BBC, has followed the original spin, and missed findings with significant policy implications.

——————
Our writer is author of the newly launched Climate Sock blog and Twitter feed.

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Reader comments


Excellent work: it seemed fishy at the time but I never got round to following it up. I will definitely be subscribing to your sock.

I think it would be more helpful to have a question along the lines of “how much would you personally be prepared to pay via increased taxes to combat global warming?”

After all, among those who are happy to see increased costs for new homes, how many already have homes and therefore won’t have to worry about this?

You know what bugs me? Gravity. I’d pay another 2%, easy, for gravity to come down 10%.

Shall we do that that then? If we have a confrence it could happen.

Muppets.

“Increasing the cost of meat, because the farming of cows and pigs is a major contributor to methane emissions, a cause of climate change:”

This is getting a real environmental article of faith, isn’t it, like the fact that third-world inhabitants have tiny carbon footprints and intend to have for the rest of their lives. Funny how people forget to factor in the existence of the human digestive system, one end of which emits greenhouse gases in various amounts. If a western couple have 2 children, who beget 2 children, who beget 2 children they have produced 8 grandchildren. If an Ethiopian or a Kenyan produces 5 children, who beget 5 children, who beget 5 children, they have produced 125 children. I contend that 125 vegetarians produce more methane and other noxious gases than the 8 omnivorous children, besides which, I understand that meat eaters have shorter lives, and are therefore less likely to be a burden on the planet than those 25 high-methane-emitters. A what’s more, if they are public-minded enough to smoke cigarettes, their lives are even shorter, and they are therefore even less of an ecological burden. Those who support the ethos of compelling people to live as long as they possibly can, are anti-environment.
Besides which, pigs are highly efficient means of converting food waste into protein – food waste which would otherwise rot and produce methane. And sheep can be grazed on land which is incapable of growing food crops.

Incidentally, you haven’t mentioned that growing crops such as barley, grapes or cider apples purely in order to produce alcohol, is grossly wasteful. Banning alcohol should be mandatory. I know that any decent lefty is noble enough to tolerate that.

In any case, I want to see some concrete research on the methane output of the human behind before I accept the above assertions about meat.

“I want to see some concrete research on the methane output of the human behind before I accept the above assertions about meat.”

Why don’t you look it up and come back when you know the answer?

Ah, yes: http://xkcd.com/675/

All of this tends to suggest that ‘global warming’ has become a political issue and that’s probably about right. For my part, as I’ve posted on other threads, I believe the climate is changing – as it always has – but it’s not our fault whatever the dodgy science says. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it. Above all it shouldn’t become a political football and we shouldn’t be signing up to any agreements to wreck our economy or give money away (that we haven’t got) as ‘reparations’ for a bunch of Afican dictators.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: How the Times distorted opinion on global warming poll http://bit.ly/7UdRyj

  2. Douglas Ashton

    Liberal Conspiracy » How the Times distorted opinion on global warming poll http://bit.ly/7UdRyj

  3. Chris Coltrane

    When The Times reported only 41% of us believe in man-made climate change, they weren't being honest. http://bit.ly/8YuK3D

  4. Merseyside Skeptics

    When The Times reported just 41% of us believe in man-made climate change, they weren't honest. http://bit.ly/8YuK3D (via @chris_coltrane)

  5. sunny hundal

    Two posts today eviscerating media coverage of global warming: http://bit.ly/6E6UzC (Daily Mail) http://bit.ly/7UdRyj (poll in The Times)

  6. mjrobbins

    RT @pickledpolitics Eviscerating media coverage of climate http://bit.ly/6E6UzC (Daily Mail) http://bit.ly/7UdRyj (poll in The Times)

  7. Ed Yong

    Only 41% of people believe in man-made climate change when 100% of journalists distort poll results http://bit.ly/8YuK3D (via @carmenego)

  8. hannahnicklin

    RT @chris_coltrane When The Times reported only 41% of us believe in man-made climate change, they weren't being honest http://bit.ly/8YuK3D

  9. BoraZ

    RT @edyong209

    Only 41% of people believe in man-made climate change when 100% of journalists distort poll results http://bit.ly/8YuK3D

  10. Merseyside Skeptics

    When The Times reported just 41% of us believe in man-made climate change, they weren't honest. http://bit.ly/8YuK3D (via @chris_coltrane)

  11. Carmen D'Cruz

    When The Times reported just 41% of us believe in man-made climate change, they weren't honest. http://bit.ly/8YuK3D (via @chris_coltrane)

  12. Liam Barrington-Bush

    RT @chris_coltrane When The Times reported only 41% of us believe in man-made climate change, they weren't being honest http://bit.ly/8YuK3D

  13. Andrew Taylor

    RT @carmenego: When The Times reported just 41% of us believe in man-made climate change, they weren't honest. http://bit.ly/8YuK3D (vi …





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