First-time visitors here might find it useful to check out the new overview page, which gives a quick summary of some of the main issues that I’ve previously written about on Climate Sock.
Archive for November, 2010
From time to time a news story comes out citing a poll that isn’t in the public domain. These articles are written on the basis of a press release – apparently all the information the journalist has about the poll.
Given that journalists are supposed to be a cynical bunch, this always strikes me as surprising. By writing up the data from the press release without checking the poll themselves, they’re taking a leap of faith that they’ve been given a fair representation of the truth. Since these press releases (of course) show results that are helpful to the organisation that commissioned the poll, you would expect due diligence for a journalist to include checking the data.
A recent poll by EDF Energy, carried out by ICM, shows why this matters.
The research was conducted among 1002 adults living near the Hinkley Point Power Station, and asked about their attitudes to nuclear power and the possible construction of a new plant.
On the strength of the poll, EDF put out this press release, in which they said that “Nearly four times as many local people support plans for a new power station at Hinkley Point than oppose it”, and that “63% support the development of Hinkley Point C”. The press release was picked up quite widely by local media, including the BBC. Nice job by their PR people in winning positive local coverage.
Fortunately, ICM is a member of the British Polling Council (BPC) and abides by its rules. These rules are strongly weighted towards transparency, and include the stipulation that where research findings have entered the public domain – as in this poll – the full data and complete wording of the questionnaire must be made available.
As ever, ICM have done this, and we can look at the data here to test out EDF’s claim.
Firstly, there’s no dispute about the figures they’ve issued. As they say, 63% are “strongly in favour” or “slightly in favour” of the potential development of Hinkley Point C, and only 17% are slightly or strongly opposed.
However, being able to see the complete data also allows us to see the wording of the whole questionnaire. The sequence of questions runs:
There’s a debate that’s just resurfaced about the value of public campaigns about climate change. Roughly speaking, one side is arguing that the only way to get people to take long-term sustainable action on climate change is to persuade them that it’s a really important issue, and if they don’t take action, very bad things will happen to the world’s climate, and this will make life miserable for a lot of people.
The other side says that even though these conclusions about climate change may be true, there’s no chance that everyone (or even nearly everyone) will go along with this, and it makes far more sense to persuade most people to adopt low-carbon behaviours for reasons not to do with climate change – usually because it’s cheaper, or reduces the need to rely on nefarious foreign places for energy supplies.
The latest round of this argument has come in the November edition of the Campaign Strategy newsletter, which takes issue with the recent Common Cause report, published by WWF in partnership with others. Roughly speaking, Common Cause takes the second view, and Campaign Strategy the first.
The Campaign Strategy authors draw on a New York Times article about energy efficiency in Kansas (well worth reading), to make the point that in areas where climate change disbelief is high, behaviour change is best framed in terms of other benefits, rather than in terms of the environment. The article even suggests that using fear of climate change as a motive for adopting low-carbon behaviours may in fact hinder action for some people. The environment has become so politicised as a topic, some will actively reject any argument in which it is mentioned.
This chimes with some of what we’ve seen in previous data. Earlier this year, an Angus Reid poll showed that, of those who had said they thought global warming was an unproven theory, nearly two thirds were still satisfied with attempts to cut worldwide emissions: