Archive for October, 2010

There may be trouble ahead

Posted in Climate Sock, Media on October 24th, 2010 by leo – 2 Comments

It looks like we’ve had the starting pistol for the biannual ritual of the season’s change justifying a spate of articles predicting the next few months’ weather. It’s always fun for us Brits, though not exactly harmless. Misreporting of a Met Office’s 2009 seasonal forecast – as a ‘barbecue summer’ – somehow led to serious suggestion that it should be sold off, despite its record as one of world’s most accurate forecasting bodies.

Now this autumn, the Guardian has pitched in with a story about the early arrival of some Bewick’s swans to the UK. Apparently their early departure from Siberia, tied with a cold forecast for the week ahead, was enough to justify an article predicting a cold winter ahead.

Without wanting to take the article too seriously (it is, after all, only a well-executed piece of PR by the Slimbridge Wetland Centre), the prospect of a cold winter should be a worry for anyone campaigning on climate change. Last year, we saw the collapse of talks in Copenhagen; Climategate; Glaciergate (the stories don’t need to be true to have been reported as damaging climate science) – and the coldest winter in the UK for 31 years. Of these, the weather may well have done the most to influence public concern about climate change.

The evidence for this is circumstantial because no-one asked the right questions, but seems fairly strong. A poll in December ’09, when the stories about UEA emails were at their peak, showed no significant movement in agreement with climate science. Yet, another poll, in January ’10, when the UEA stories had died down, but the cold weather was at its most severe, showed a significant drop in agreement that climate change was a reality (though I think methodological problems with this latter poll seriously weaken it). In the other direction, we’ve also seen that confidence in climate science increases when heatwaves or storms cause major disruption, and the media attribute this weather to climate change.

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Where we are now

Posted in Climate Sock, Communications on October 3rd, 2010 by leo – 3 Comments

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 have produced (a few months ago) a handy collection of slides, which brings together a lot what we’ve seen into a single place.

For regular Climate Sock readers (yep, both of you), most of these points will look pretty familiar – but hopefully still a useful reminder.

My conclusions from the charts are:

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.

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