Archive for September, 2010

Is climate change too academic?

Posted in Climate Sock, Communications on September 26th, 2010 by leo – 3 Comments

Here’s an issue that, I think, says a lot about the challenges facing anyone campaigning or trying to move policy on climate change. Gallup’s annual tracker on climate change has a set of answers which suggests that climate change continues to be seen as a relatively abstract issue, and not something that affects people’s lives in a tangible way.

First, to the numbers. The Gallup poll asked Americans how concerned they are about various environmental issues, covering pollution, biodiversity loss, and global warming. Of all the issues polled, global warming provoked the lowest level of concern (fieldwork March 2009):

For anyone who thinks that global warming/climate change is the greatest environmental threat to human development, these results should be quite worrying. They suggest that the seriousness of climate change is not very well understood in comparison with more proximate threats like pollution. As the basis for public campaigns about climate change, that is not very helpful.

Why should global warming be so far down the list, given the extent of coverage about it in comparison with the other issues on the list (this isn’t to assert that climate change receives an appropriate amount of coverage – simply that it tends to receive more than other environmental issues)? I think two factors are driving this.

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Young liberal non-white women and climate change

Posted in Climate Sock, Demographics on September 19th, 2010 by leo – Comments Off on Young liberal non-white women and climate change

Some new(ish) analysis of climate attitudes in the US helpfully puts more solid numbers against a lot of what we’ve seen here in the past. The analysis was run by an academic at Michigan State Uni, and shows the effect of different factors on attitudes and knowledge about climate change.

It’s a very straight-forward paper (go on, have a look), which draws on Gallup Polls from over the last eight years to build a dataset that’s big enough for some serious subgroup analysis. The main focus of the paper – which is picked up by Leo Hickman in the Guardian Environment Blog – is about gender differences. These are indeed interesting, and there are a few other striking issues that the analysis shows.

Gender notwithstanding, the factor that is most strongly correlated with concern about climate change is an individual’s knowledge about it. This is knowledge as measured by the likelihood to answer that global warming is already happening, is man-made, and that most scientists believe it is occurring – rather than a stated level of personal knowledge (which yields quite different results).  Of course, some people would dispute these as objective measures of knowledge.

I see two possible readings of this correlation between concern and knowledge. You could argue that this proves that if someone knows about climate change, that knowledge makes them worry. But the alternative causal direction could also be valid. Someone who – for whatever reason – has become concerned about climate change then goes onto learn more about it, and this knowledge could potentially not have any impact on their overall level of concern (in theory).

Maybe that one wasn’t so surprising, but others are a bit more interesting. After knowledge, the factors that correlate most with concern about climate change are, in order of the strength of the correlation:

Political ideology and party affiliation: the more Democratic and liberal a person is, the more likely they are to be knowledgeable and concerned about climate change.

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