Climate Sock

What do the public think about climate change?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on October 14th, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off on What do the public think about climate change?

I was recently asked to give a summary presentation of public opinion about climate change and energy.

Most of it will be familiar to regular readers, though may still be of interest:

 

 

 

Tory MPs vs public opinion on energy and climate change

Posted in Climate Sock on September 29th, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off on Tory MPs vs public opinion on energy and climate change

This was originally posted on Carbon Brief, on 11 September.

A new poll of MPs has found widespread doubts about climate science, particularly among Tory MPs.

The poll, conducted for PR Week by Populus and reported in the Guardian, found that 51% of MPs think that man-made climate change is “an established scientific fact”. Two in five think it is a theory that “has not yet been conclusively proved”, while nearly one in ten say man-made climate change is “environmentalist propaganda”.

The findings suggest that MPs have similar views on climate science to those of the general public. A poll in August 2013 by Opinium for Carbon Brief, with similar questions, found that 56% believe that climate change is happening and is caused by humans.

In fairness, the concept of "scientific fact" is a little shonk.

Polling 2b

But the new poll shows dramatic contrasts in attitudes of MPs of different parties. While 73% of Labour MPs think man-made climate change is a scientific fact, only three in ten Tory MPs say the same. Nearly one in five Tory MPs say they think it is purely propaganda.

Although Brass Eye did establish that some scientific facts do exist.The sample of Liberal Democrats is too small for meaningful analysis. While the sample of the other main parties is larger, it still gives a margin of error of around +/- 12pts for Tory MPs and +/- 13pts for Labour MPs. Nevertheless, the gap in the results is large enough to suggest that Tory MPs have views about climate science that are, on average, very different from those of the general public.

Mounting evidence

Such a level of doubt about climate science among Tories might appear surprising. When the Climate Change Act was passed in October 2008, only three Tory MPs voted against it.

But this is not the first polling evidence of such views among Tory MPs about energy and climate change. A separate poll of MPs, conducted in July 2014 by ComRes, found similar differences in opinions about renewable energy.

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Have the floods finally got Britain worried about climate change?

Posted in Climate Sock on May 3rd, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off on Have the floods finally got Britain worried about climate change?

This winter’s floods ­– eventually – brought climate change to the centre of UK politics for the first time since Cameron was hugging huskies. When they weren’t staring furiously at flooded villages, both Miliband and the Prime Minister linked the floods with climate change and warned of serious future threats.

But did the floods have any effect on public opinion about climate change? A piece by Ros Donald for Carbon Brief points to data that suggest they did – with big increases in the numbers saying climate change is one of the main issues facing Britain.

This form of question is probably the crucial test for opinion on climate change. For years, a consistent majority have agreed that climate change is real and a problem: when asked directly about it. But what matters more is whether many people think of climate change as a priority for action when compared with issues like jobs and the health service.

Ros points to two polls that show, following the floods, many more people are indeed now saying climate change is one of the main issues for the country.

A regular tracker by DECC found 22% saying climate change is one of the country’s top three challenges, up from 10% two years ago. I have some serious issues with this tracker – it’s overpriced, some of the questions are so badly written as to be unusable, other questions pointlessly measure every three months things that will change on a timescale of years at least – but this particular question is broadly fine.

Ros also spotted a YouGov issues poll that picked up a jump in concern about the environment: from 9% in late January to 23% in mid-February.

For the intersection of poll and climate change nerds, this is exciting stuff. Big shifts in public opinion don’t come around very often. Being around to see one is enough to make a guy like me nearly forget the dictum for enthusiasts that, in nearly all cases, most people are paying far less attention to the subject of your enthusiasm than you think they are.

So has there really been an awakening to the urgency of climate change? Maybe. But probably not really. Here’s why:

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The climate debate is changing: this is what the next fight will be about

Posted in Climate Sock, Media on February 16th, 2014 by Leo – 2 Comments

Listen carefully and you might hear the climate debate shifting. The floods may not have a dramatic effect on public opinion about climate change, but they have revealed what the next stage of political arguments might look like.

Most of the UK public have long thought that we need to act on climate change. Only about 1 in 7 people think climate change is some kind of hoax; the overwhelming majority think it’s a serious problem, if sometimes a bit exaggerated.

Of course you wouldn’t know that from the media. Particularly since Copenhagen and the UEA email release, much of the media debate about climate change has carried on as if doubt about its reality and severity are widespread. In general, the media haven’t been interested in other kinds of climate stories.

But with the UK floods that may now be changing. The usual denier voices are still given airtime, and they’re still claiming that climate change isn’t real, or isn’t manmade. But now they’re trying their next fallback: if this is climate change, we need to stop wasting money on cutting our emissions and focus on preparing the UK for what’s coming.

Nigel Lawson used it on the Today Programme; Tim Montgomerie, editor of Times Opinion, has been making the same case today:

If the media now lose interest in debates about whether or not climate change is real, this might be the next big fight.

There are at least three parts to the counter-argument:

The UK isn’t irrelevant

We’re accountable for only around 2% of the world’s emissions. If we shut down the country overnight it would have only a small direct effect on climate change. So, it’s argued, there’s no point us busting a gut to reduce our emissions, when what matters is what the most polluting countries do.

But it’s a straw man. No-one’s suggesting we can single-handedly stop dangerous climate change. The point is if global emissions are to be cut, those countries that can afford to cut their emissions need to do so. If the UK wasn’t pledging big emissions reductions, why should the rest of the EU do the same? And if the EU isn’t, how can we hope to persuade China to act?

Which leads to the next argument:

We haven’t failed to reduce emissions

Since 1990, emissions have fallen sharply in the EU: in France by 17%, in Germany by 24%, and in the UK by 29%. US emissions rose over that time, but since 2000 have fallen by 9%.*

China’s emissions are still rising, but even they are probably moving in the right direction. In ’09, out of all the wind power capacity installed globally, 35% was in China – making it the world’s third largest user of wind energy. This may partly be about cutting local pollution from coal plants, but in a world where everyone else is cutting their emissions, it will be hard for China not to follow.

Part of the blame for this perception of failure may lie at the door of climate campaigners. Every time a climate deal is slammed as a failure by an NGO, the impression is strengthened that nothing is being done. And so it becomes a bit easier for critics of all global deals to say we should stop wasting our time with these negotiations and start preparing for the worst.

And so the third, and most neglected part:

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Linking the floods with climate change – and why it’s important

Posted in Climate Sock on February 11th, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off on Linking the floods with climate change – and why it’s important

Perhaps I’m sensitive, but there doesn’t seem to have been much debate about whether the current UK floods are linked with climate change. The connection has appeared for a day or two but has never been the story for long.

I’m going to look at this in two ways: firstly, what it’s meant for public opinion, and secondly, why it matters.

When the media aren’t talking about an issue, it generally doesn’t get polled about – so we don’t have much data on opinion about the floods and climate change. But we can cobble together a few different polls and get some sense:

1)      People think the UK will suffer more flooding as a result of climate change

A Defra poll last year found people overwhelmingly think that flooding has got more common, and will continue to do so*.

2)      People tend to see weather extremes in general as climate change-related

The last Carbon Brief energy/climate change poll tested how far record-breaking weather of the last few years is seen as linked with climate change. It found just under half think they’re linked: a plurality but hardly decisive.

 

3)      These floods in particular haven’t really been linked with climate change

The only poll I know of asking whether people connect these floods with climate change, by YouGov, found a roughly even split, with slightly more saying they’re probably not linked.

This was done before the Met Office published their report making a link, which got a bit of coverage. But as Carbon Brief have shown, only a small proportion of news articles about the floods have mentioned climate change, so it would be surprising if opinion has changed hugely.

Why does it matter?

It’s contentious to say that climate campaigners should be declaring that these floods are the result of climate change.

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Public opinion on energy and climate change

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on January 27th, 2014 by Leo – 2 Comments

I was asked recently to do a short briefing on public opinion about energy and climate change. What I’ve written will be familiar to this site’s regular reader – but may be of interest to anyone else who wants a quick summary and doesn’t like charts.

Summary

  • Widespread belief the climate is changing and is a threat to Britain
  • Most claiming to be undecided about climate change are soft sceptics responding to the polarisation of the debate – they still want government to tackle climate change
  • Very few think no need for action
  • Flooding seen as easily the biggest threat
  • Little appetite to pay directly for green measures, though acceptance of use of tax system
  • Green energy popular despite anti-wind campaigns; opinion on fracking not settled

 

Just over half think the climate is changing with humans responsible – very few outright reject the idea of climate change.

  • 56% say climate change happening and mostly caused by humans
  • 33% say climate change happening and mostly caused by natural processes
  • 6% say climate change not happening (Opinium)

This has stayed roughly constant over the last five years, though shows greater doubt than there was at the peak of concern about climate change around 2005.

 

Most of the change on ’05 is the rise of those in the middle – soft sceptics – who are responding to the polarisation of the debate. They think action on climate change is needed ­but don’t identify with values of green activists.

Responses to questions about climate change are often about political identity – not about understanding of climate science. Of those who say global warming is mostly caused by natural changes, 69% were still satisfied that Copenhagen aimed to cut global emissions by 50% by 2020.

 

Beyond the polarised debate about whether climate change is real, there is a widespread view that climate change is a threat to Britain and action is needed.

  • 48% say climate change is a major threat to Britain
  • 35% say climate change is a minor threat to Britain
  • 13% say it isn’t a threat (Pew)
  • 67% say climate change could be a serious problem and we need to act now to try to prevent it happening in the future
  • 13% say climate change could be a serious problem but we don’t need to worry about it for now
  • 12% say climate change will probably never be a serious problem (Opinium)

 

The overwhelming majority think flooding has already become more frequent and will be even more common by 2050. This is much more than for other climate impacts like heatwaves.

  • 83% say flooding has become more frequent in their lifetime
  • 81% say flooding will become more common by 2050
  • 33% say heatwaves will become more common by 2050 (Defra)

Flooding is intuitively understood but other impacts need more explanation. For example to make the case for adapting to heatwaves, communications need first to explain the health effects of extreme heat, particularly for the elderly.

 

Consumers resist being made to pay directly for green measures, but accept that measures can be funded through general taxes

There is general support for green taxes in principle, but opposition to specific charges on bills:

  • 40% support green taxes in general; 29% oppose (Survation)
  • 60% oppose £128 charge on energy bills for green measures (Survation)

But the most popular solution is for green and social measures to be sustained and funded through general taxes:

  • 39% say should be funded from other taxes instead of people’s energy bills
  • 15% say should be funded by a levy on people’s energy bills
  • 34% say should no longer by spent (YouGov)

 

Renewable forms of energy are easily the most popular, including locally

Wind, solar and tidal power consistently have the highest approval – far higher than fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Though support for wind turbines is lower when built locally, they still have twice the approval (52%) of any other form: gas (25%), coal (22%), nuclear (20%) (Opinium).

 

Shale gas fracking is still unpopular – but opposition is not yet settled and may reduce if safety concerns are overcome

Fewer than one in five would be happy to have a shale gas well within 10 miles of their home. But opposition to shale is based on fears about earthquakes and contaminated drinking water. Few people object to shale on the grounds they think it would reduce investment in renewables or lead to an increase in carbon emissions. If these safety concerns are overcome, we may see an increase in the numbers supporting fracking (Opinium).

Has the media stopped linking floods to climate change?

Posted in Climate Sock on January 5th, 2014 by Leo – 13 Comments

UK flooding has been a top news story for the last few weeks – but it’s felt to me like climate change hasn’t been in the picture. So I ran the numbers to check.

I searched on Nexis for news stories about flooding across UK newspapers, filtering out stories about floods of migrants, floods of tears and Toby Flood (details at the bottom*). I then looked at how many of those stories also mentioned climate change or global warming.

The results were interesting. Until 2008, 12-18% of articles about flooding also mentioned climate change. That then leapt to 25% in 2009 – but since then has fallen to 7-11%.

This is pretty much what I might have guessed. Up to late ’09, the media seemed increasingly interested in climate change, but after the Copenhagen conference and the UEA email hack the only climate stories they were interested in were those about scientific disagreements, public scepticism and political inertia (even in the face of scientific consensus, stable public worries and political progress).

This should worry climate change campaigners.

For the UK to have decent climate change policies (limiting it and adapting to unavoidable changes) that have public support and so can survive spending cuts, there needs to be a widespread public view that climate change will be a problem. One of the best ways of fostering this is to show how climate change will affect the UK, using examples that reflect what the future would look like if we don’t take action**.

Flooding is the climate change impact that is seen as most likely (and indeed already happening) and most worrying. If the media aren’t talking about flooding in the context of climate change, campaigners are missing an opportunity to get more people to care about it and punish governments that don’t act.

 

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Greenpeace’s Christmas campaign and my utter irrelevance

Posted in Climate Sock on December 17th, 2013 by Leo – Comments Off on Greenpeace’s Christmas campaign and my utter irrelevance

For a few years, I’ve been arguing that the best way to win more support for action on climate change is to:

  • Stop fretting about climate denial. Only tiny numbers doubt the climate is changing – most people think it’s because of human activity. Campaigners shouldn’t get stuck talking about belief: they should get conversations going about what we can do about climate change.
  • Explain how climate change will directly affect the people you’re talking to. That might mean talking about floods and heatwaves in the UK – not animals and people in far-off places.

I might also have said it can be best to avoid jokes where climate change ads come in.

And then there’s the thing that your audience have almost certainly paid way less attention to the issue than you have, so best to be really clear about what you’re talking about and why it matters.

Anyway. Just goes to show how irrelevant I am.

You can join Greenpeace’s campaign here.

#freethearctic30

Politicians think the public don’t want a deal to stop climate change. They’re wrong.

Posted in Climate Sock on November 23rd, 2013 by Leo – Comments Off on Politicians think the public don’t want a deal to stop climate change. They’re wrong.

I made this BuzzFeed thing about what people think about climate change.

It’s got graphs and a gif. But no cats. Sorry.

It’s here.

 

Energy taxes: new polls show why they’re under attack

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on October 27th, 2013 by Leo – 1 Comment

A glut of polls this week has shown more clearly what the country thinks about government levies on energy bills. The results tell us both why the measures are under attack, and also how environmentally-conscious politicians can protect funding for renewables.

According to the polls:

1. There’s support for green taxes in principle

The Mail on Sunday must have been disappointed when their Survation poll last week found that people are generally happy with green taxes used to pay for renewables. They asked the question in several ways, but every time found that people are more likely to support green taxes than oppose them. For example:

 

2. People don’t want to pay green taxes themselves

But things change when the polls ask whether people are actually willing to pay personally for green measures. This week, the Mail on Sunday had another go, with more direct questions, and found roughly three-to-one opposition to ‘green taxes’ being on energy bills when they had a price tag attached:

 

Together these two points look a bit like what Hopi Sen calls ‘pony polling’: would you like something nice (that someone else will pay for)?

Except it’s not quite that, because:

3. People are willing to pay levies for social measures

This week’s Mail on Sunday poll asked about each of the social and green measures that add costs to energy bills. It found there’s more support for keeping the things that directly benefit consumers – particularly those that distribute help to the poorest people*:

So there’s a specific problem with support for renewables. People want renewables to be expanded, but not so much that they’re actually happy to pay more themselves.

With the parties agreeing that energy bills are too high and with the scrutiny on the government levies, it’s likely that the levies will be changed, though from the chart above, the social measures should be secure (it would be a massive own goal for the Tories to remove another measure protecting the poor when it doesn’t help with deficit reduction).

But the question is whether, after any changes, funding for green measures will survive (through some other means), or if they’ll be cut by a government that reckons it gets more credit from reducing the cost of living than it gets opprobrium for abandoning efforts to be green.

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