With the number of polls I’ve written about here, it’s been a while since I’ve taken stock of the different results and what we can learn from them. Fortunately, MORI produced a handy collection of slides (a few months ago), which brings together a lot what we’ve seen into a single place:
My conclusions from the charts are:
1. Level of concern
Climate change and the environment in general isn’t a major issue on most people’s radars. It doesn’t come high in the list when people are thinking about the issues that affects their day-to-day lives. However, it does become more significant when it’s prominent for external reasons: severe weather attributed to climate change; positive media attention (e.g. around the Stern report). Equally, it can be less of a concern for the opposite reasons. Indeed, the dates for the fieldwork for a number of the charts – early 2010 – have, I believe, reduced some of the scores for action on tackling climate change. So comparisons with 2005 and 2008 look worse than I suspect they would have been if the fieldwork had been a couple of months later.
I think this suggests that people generally don’t reject the idea of climate change as an important issue. When they’re reminded about it, it reappears as something important. But most of the time, most people aren’t affected by it at an emotional level, any more than most people in rich countries are affected emotionally by food security in the global South apart from when starvation makes the TV screens.
2. Level of engagement
MORI’s conclusion on the data about whether climate change is exaggerated is that two in five agree with this. That’s true, but what I think is most interesting is that 71% are in the middle three options: tend to agree / neither agree nor disagree / tend to disagree. Another 3% don’t know. So only 26% have a strong opinion. Similarly, on the question about whether people are uncertain what the effects of climate change will be, 79% are in those three options.
We see this often in questions about climate change that give middle-ground options. More people seem to be put off by the heat of the ‘debate’ between climate campaigners and those who reject humans as the cause of climate change. Both sides are seen to be overstating their case; the compromise is assumed to be the correct position.
3. Basis for action
I’ve used the data on slide 18 on a couple of occasions (here, for instance). I think it’s one of the most important findings I’ve seen about the communication of climate change. While most people think that climate change is caused by humans, that it’s serious, that it requires action, and that that action should be led by governments… they don’t trust politicians to lead that action.
Either politicians have to get much better at how they talk about climate change, and be much more transparent about how climate taxes are structured. Or they need help from other people, who can push for action on climate change with much more credibility.
This is post was originally published on ClimateSock.com.