Climate change: where are we now?

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.

2 Responses

  1. Richard Hawkins

    Looking at slide 8 – there must be something they’ve missed, no?

    Slide 13 seems to show the shift in concern (at least) happened between 2005-2008 not 2008-2010, which suggests CruHack / non-IPCCGate & the cold winter didn’t have as large an effect as whatever went on between 2005-2008… Durkin et al.?

    Reply
  2. Harold Forbes

    Basis for Action

    There is now little doubt that the way we currently account for economic activity encourages ordinary people to destroy the future through their everyday activities. By treating the Earth’s resources and services as “free” to use it always appears “cheaper” to pollute than protect. That might have worked when there was a few hundred million of us but with near 7 billion now it is blatantly apparent that a system based on perpetual growth by consuming a finite planet is a physical impossibility. Moving to renewable energy is estimated to cost about 1% of world GDP if we do it now and more like 20% if we leave it until the impacts of climate change are obviously and undeniable evident.

    The ideological struggle is not between capitalism and socialism, it is between those who understand that our children will pay heavily and those that are comfortable with the status quo and want our children to take their chances: even if those chances are empty oceans, barren soil, killer heat-waves and fierce storms.

    I do not believe that we humans ever intended to put ourselves into this position and that we have done so can really be attributed to an accounting error. Few people would agree that we should continue to live with an error once it has been found and I think we should do more to raise the level of debate about it.

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