Those articles all picked up on the large increase in numbers who say they think the world’s climate is changing, and I won’t go over the ground covered by those pieces. But there are a couple of other points about the poll and the coverage that I found interesting:
Firstly, I’m uneasy about polls on belief in climate change. As I’ve written a few times, people’s response to questions about whether or not climate change is real is a bad measure of whether they want action to reduce emissions. Not only are the results misleading, these questions keep the debate about climate change in a place that’s far less useful than it would be if we were instead talking about what we’re going to do about climate change. Even when the results suggest people increasingly think climate change is real, the time spent talking about this could be spent talking about, for example, what kind of deal the UK should push for at the Paris climate conference this year – and it legitimises discussions of some future poll that apparently shows a fall in ‘belief’.
Secondly, I continue to be mystified by the answer choices in the question about the causes of climate change:
- It is entirely caused by natural processes
- It is mainly caused by natural processes
- It is partly caused by natural processes and partly caused by human activity
- It is mainly caused by human activity
- It is entirely caused by human activity
- There is no such thing as climate change
- Don’t know
It’s the same scale used in the DECC tracking poll, and as I said about that poll, I find it hard to interpret the results. If I think that climate change is mostly human but a bit natural, should I pick choice 3 or 4? Both apply. If choice 3 is supposed to mean “equally” human and natural, it should say so, not “partly”.
It’s also not great to have one answer choice that is much longer than the others (pick a card, any card, particularly the one I’ve made stick out a bit) as well as one that combines the others and so looks like the middle-ground option (even though it means the same as 2 and 4). Unsurprisingly, choice 3 always gets by far the most respondents.
The only basis I can see for using these answer choices is to compare with previous polls that used it. But since the choices are so muddled it would still be better if it were dropped.
Finally, I was amused to see the Guardian refer to “only” 14% of people saying they would write to or phone their MP about climate change. If one in seven people really did this, each MP would get about 10,000 letters, emails or phone calls about climate change!