Why opinion on Climate change is much better than polls suggest


by Leo Barasi    
10:07 am - December 18th 2011

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Climate scepticism is on the march, according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey, published last week.

The findings are important but the survey has one great drawback that has been consistently overlooked. It is that the research was conducted well over a year ago: mostly in the summer of 2010.

This is important because we already knew concern about climate change had fallen in the winter of 2009/10. There was plenty of polling and analysis around then that told us exactly that; this research adds more detail but doesn’t come as a surprise.

Importantly, we’ve seen more recent data that suggest that concern has increased since 2010. A poll in the Guardian in January this year showed attitudes had returned to their pre-2010 level.

Polling from the US has suggested something similar. And most recently, an international poll by Globescan powerfully reflects the same picture – that 2010 was an unusually low point:

We should be cautious then about assuming that the changes in attitudes shown by the British Social Attitude survey all still hold true.

But doesn’t mean we should ignore the findings.

Even if views have rebounded since then, this is the message that the government is hearing. Hence in 18 months, it has moved from Cameron’s announcement of “the greenest government ever” to Osborne’s claim “we are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers”.

But much polling about climate change can be a poor guide to what people want the government to do.

The term ‘climate change’ seems to have taken on a political meaning separate from anything to do with science and risk. Instead, it’s taken by many to represent a left-wing world view, justifying high taxes and dislike of business.

While many in this group do believe that something needs to be done to address the threat, they won’t associate themselves with the views of green activists. So when answering surveys, they say that the threat of climate change has been exaggerated and they wouldn’t be willing to pay more taxes to cover it.

But they also say that they want action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This Angus Reid poll shows that nearly two thirds of those who claimed to think that global warming hadn’t be proven were still satisfied that the Copenhagen Accord made a commitment to reducing emissions:

This detail is lost in the current narrative: the debate is instead framed as an antagonism between environmentalists and sceptics. Victory is determined as which of the rival camps can claim the most followers.

For those who want action to stop climate change, it’s crucial to realise that this is not the most important metric of success. Many people won’t sign up to the campaign but will support action.

The challenge is to tap into this very widely shared desire for action, without expecting all to subscribe to a set of political and cultural attitudes that many reject.

This means worrying less about polls that show that many are unwilling to make sacrifices to save the planet, and looking instead for ways to make low-carbon lives not only normal but economically attractive.

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About the author
Leo is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He manages communications for a small policy organisation, and writes about polling and info from public opinion surveys at Noise of the Crowd
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Reader comments


1. Billy Blofeld

The green machine HAS been hijacked by the left. Seriously ask yourselves who *wouldn’t* want to look after the planet?

People object to climate science being abused to smuggle through a left wing agenda. The science is manaupluated and fudged in the name of left wing politics. The media (BBC) reports the corrupt science as fact and undisputed to ultimately project acceptance of camouflaged left wing politics on all channels, in most programming 24×7.

Dishonest right wing politicians are also seduced, since “climate change” is the ultimate stealth tax. Afterall who could object to a tax in the name of “looking after the planet”? Popular taxation a politicians dream.
Especially since natural climate variation can be used to stoke fear and re-inforce the need for raising ever higher taxes.

Finally the political elite are using climate as the reason to force a global version of the EU on us, with perma-unaccountability and perma-socialism locked in.

If you *hate* the way left wing politics makes the poor poorer and more reliant on the state. If you hate that centralising left wing politicians drive government intrusiveness into every CCTV-wheelie-bin-spying aspect of our lives then the front line battles to halt this insidious threat is to expose the CLIMATE SCAM CAMOUFLAGE being used to force this corrupt world order on us.

“This means worrying less about polls that show that many are unwilling to make sacrifices to save the planet, ”

The very first thing is stop using ridiculous hyperbole about saving the planet. The planet is not in danger, only people are.

‘the Copenhagen Accord aims to reduce worldwide emissions by 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020′? Really? I don’t remember anything remotely as ambitious as that coming out of Copenhagen. Can anyone link to where this was reported?

The earth and life have gone through many bouts of violent climate change, life itself survived, but millions of species didn’t, every single case of climate change has resulted in mass extinctions. The worst known to date is the Permian, where extreme volcanic activity associated with the breakup of Pangea nearly killed the earth – 95% of species, & 99% of living organisms (deduced from fossil records – or to be more accurate stretches of near total lack of fossils)

The extreme volcanism pumped into the earth’s atmosphere vast quantities of CO2, METHANE, SO2, NITROUS OXIDES and other pollutants – notice a strange coincidence with what is pumped into the atmosphere by BURNING the stupid fuel source we have?

We should stop calling oil/gas/coal fossil fuels, why waste a precious resource by spending trillions to burn them, when they are worth more as feedstocks for other industries or left in the ground.

The argument that tackling the cause of climate change would harm the economy is really a load of specious twaddle from vested interests, whether it is the Confederation of Imperial America’s Koch brothers or the numpties that play patsy with them.

Those trillions wasted on burning fossil fuels would instead be invested in accelerating the second industrial revolution (nanotech, gm, quantum computing, expantion into the solar system etc) and that would result in an economy thousands of times bigger than ours!

The alternative is at the very least a contraction of our economy to pre industrial levels if we continue listening to the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby… or if we are not careful, extinction of the vast majority of species we depend on, and our own extinction!

Barney,

I don’t know where they got the 50% figure from, no one pledged to reduce emissions by that amount by 2020. The EU pledged 20-30%, dependent on the extent of actions taken by other nations – I don’t think anyone make a more comprehensive commitment than that.

6. Man on Clapham Omnibus

This is a case where asking people what they think is entirely irrelevant. There is science and there is non science. We as a species will inevitably die out because largely we do not believe in scientific method. Furthermore, humans are unable to organise themselves in a prompt fashion, the euro mess and climate talks being two current examples.
So while’ would be politicians’ look at the polls and governments weakened by their linkages to business pontificate, the world continues to heat up.
We will all be dead and thats a certainty. I can imagine when the crops regularly fail, islands sink and fish stocks die out the man in the street will still be none the wiser.But somehow the petrol chemical industry will still be doing very nicely thank you very much.

7. Mydogsgotnonose

The North Atlantic ocean heat content is falling as the Arctic starts to freeze. This runs counter the CO2-AGW hypothesis. Since 1997, that has been based on fraud, basically artificial hockey-sticks, needed to calibrate CO2 climate sensitivity after the 1997 paper which showed CO2 lagged end of ice age T.

The other issue is that climate science has been populated by people with poor basic science and there are three other BIG scientific mistakes, known of by insiders.

The scam’s over. As we get to 2015 it will become much colder. Indeed, the BIG snowstorm heading down now from Montana is as had as the 1950s. We’ll have a partly snowy winter because it’ll be Atlantic dominated, probably.

@7, open your fridge door…
inside the fridge it gets too warm, but cold air spills over your feet!

more CO2 in the atmosphere is the equivalent…

globally, temperatures are higher than ever, in the arctic, sea ice is at record breaking lows, permafrost is melting – resulting in entire lakes disappearing in Canada & Siberia – & another more powerful greenhouse gas called methane been released…

…do not confuse Montana’s cold snowy continental winters with propaganda from big oil/coal/gas against global warming – in fact, you are MUCH MORE LIKELY TO HAVE WORSE WINTER SNOWFALL because there is more moisture in the air – no cold weather temperature records have been broken anywhere, just the opposite (2°C rise in average temperatures would still result in 20-30° – or more accurately 15-25° below in winter, but with an extra 2 metres of snow)

another @7, the hockey stick is real, globally!! NOT A FRAUD, or do you prefer to accept the propaganda from the same PR companies big tobacco used??

they peddled crap about more doctors smoke than in the general population when the link between lung cancer & smoking was made public…

Green issues are yet another way to justify Marxism – “we’ve lost all the political and economic arguments, but if you don’t wave the red flag and re-distribute wealth, we’re ALL GOING TO DIE!”

11. So Much For Subtlety

8. Daz

globally, temperatures are higher than ever, in the arctic, sea ice is at record breaking lows, permafrost is melting – resulting in entire lakes disappearing in Canada & Siberia – & another more powerful greenhouse gas called methane been released…

Sorry but that is nonsense. The Met Office today admitted we had returned to 1997 temperatures. It was warmer in the Mediaeval Warm Period. It may have been about as warm in the Victorian period. It is not unusually warm. The Arctic had an entirely natural pattern of wind a few years back that reduced ice cover. It has been recovering ever since. The permafrost is not melting. There is no good evidence for methane being released – and in fact we would not expect it to be as it has been there for a long time and so survived 6 C increases in the past.

12. carlos barlos

…there is no good evidence for methane being released…

…though plenty of it coming out of you mouth Mister SMFS

@So Much For Subtlety
What you say is nonsense. I think this is what you are misrepresenting:
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2011/2011-global-temperature

As it says, there was a strong La Nina this year, so it was not a record-breaking year. Still hotter than 1997 and every single year on record before that. And way hotter than Victorian times, as that graph shows. Also hotter than the Medieval Warm period – see http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/globalwarming/paleolast.html . Far from ‘recovering’, Arctic sea ice hit its lowest ever volume this year – see http://psc.apl.washington.edu/wordpress/research/projects/arctic-sea-ice-volume-anomaly/ . Methane plumes in the Arctic “on a scale not seen before”: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/shock-as-retreat-of-arctic-sea-ice-releases-deadly-greenhouse-gas-6276134.html

14. Robin Levett

@SMFS #11:

The Met Office today admitted we had returned to 1997 temperatures.

Would that refer to this news story – the one that confirms that 2011 is likely to be the 11th warmest on record? (Please don’t believe everything you read on The Register. BOFH is great – but its coverage of actual science is at best patchy).

It was warmer in the Mediaeval Warm Period.

Cite.

It may have been about as warm in the Victorian period.

Cite.

It is not unusually warm. The Arctic had an entirely natural pattern of wind a few years back that reduced ice cover. It has been recovering ever since.

Cite. And an explanation of why summer minimum ice cover in 2011 got within a gnat’s crotchet of 2007 levels.

The permafrost is not melting. There is no good evidence for methane being released – and in fact we would not expect it to be as it has been there for a long time and so survived 6 C increases in the past.

When did the 6K increases – that did not release clathrates – occur? The Permian and Eocene events didn’t involve such increases.

15. Robin Levett

@SMFS #11 (contd):

…and it is worth mentioning that we have had La Nina conditions this year – which depresses global temperatures (just as El Nino elevates them).

2011 is the hottest La Nina year on record – and is hotter than any El Nino year prior to 1998.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 10

“Green issues are yet another way to justify Marxism”

It’s actually quite sad that you think you can argue with the science by, in effect, accusing nature of being political. Bloody nature, inventing all those holes in the ozone layer just to suit its communist bias!

By the way, you should probably look up “Marxism” in the dictionary some time. It would improve your contributions to this site remarkably.

Chaise,

It’s actually quite sad that you think you can argue with the science by, in effect, accusing nature of being political. Bloody nature, inventing all those holes in the ozone layer just to suit its communist bias!

I think you may be right in your assessment of the contribution, but I think what you say is wrong. Green issues are not science – science is simply science (and you can argue with it – if you are not allowed, that is not science but received wisdom), and those who promote green issues at the heart of politics are more often than not seemingly adopting a relatively left-wing position of requiring state intervention (this applies to a previous incarnation of a certain Mr Cameron for example…).

So it appears if you give enough monkeys access to the internet, one of them will eventually type something accurate, even if it is for the wrong reasons…

18. Robin Levett

@Watchman #17:

Green issues are not science – science is simply science (and you can argue with it – if you are not allowed, that is not science but received wisdom), and those who promote green issues at the heart of politics are more often than not seemingly adopting a relatively left-wing position of requiring state intervention

Forgive me, but it seems to me that you have this arse-about-face.

Government intervention is not inherently a left/right wing issue. Nobody claims it is left-wing to increase the number of police officers on the streets, for example, even though that is one of the most visible instances of governmental intervention into people’s lives.

The market is manifestly incapable of resolving “green issues” on its own; the main problem being that the market doesn’t price externalities. If, as an example, pollution carried an immediate cost to the polluter, then that would provide a market incentive not to pollute. Since, in the absence of government intervention, that cost isn’t there, the incentive is to pollute.

Those who are promoting green issues at the heart of politics, therefore, are merely being practical, or at least there is an element of practicality within their resoning. It is those who oppose green measures, however justified by the science, purely because they involve government intervention, who are taking the political stance.

if big oil/coal/gas had to interionise the consequences of burning fossil carbon, they would go bust within a week! instead, taxpayers pay extra tax to clean up the mess they make! if it wasn’t wasted by burning, they may actually be viable industries long term! maybe even more profitable – all those carbon compounds are feedstocks for other industries from plastics to pharmaceuticals! unfortunately too many people are hogtied to the notion that they are fuels, presumably because the drip-drip-drip of lies from the short sighted & selfish (fox news is a classic example) has well and truly washed their brains of any trace of real knowledge!

unfortunately that route leads to disaster for our civiliisation. does anyone think there wasn’t people campaigning against the destruction of easter island’s forests – which directly contributed to the collapse & destruction of that civilisation, or is it more likely they were demonised, ghettoised, criminalised and er, neutalised by the chiefs that wanted ever bigger statues, as they were a symbol of wealth & power, & as such more important than maintaining the health of the civilisation that supported their perceived status.

there are decaying wrecks of other civilisations worldwide that took that route too…

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
When the Earth grows sick and when it does a people will gather from all the cultures
of the World who believe in words and they will work to heal it.
All will look up and shout Save Us! and Ill look down, and whisper NO.


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