Energy sources

What’s the point of UK climate policy?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources, Politics on November 23rd, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off on What’s the point of UK climate policy?

It’s a strange time for UK climate policy. One week the Foreign Secretary argues that strong action to cut emissions is the conservative thing to do. The next, the Energy and Climate Secretary announces that the UK will close its coal plants, but proposes replacing them with gas while doing little to prevent us missing both our 2020 renewable energy targets and the 4th carbon budget in the mid-‘20s.

It seems the government is content to reaffirm its commitment to our climate targets, without offering policies to achieve them. If that’s the case, what’s the political calculation behind it? Is there a political benefit to the government in going slower on climate change – or might there be a cost to it in doing so?

My conclusions are pessimistic. It may be that the rational response to public views about the climate – for a government that isn’t strongly motivated to act on it for other reasons, like its own convictions, or pressure from backbenchers or industry – is to be perceived to be tackling it, without going so far as to impose significant costs on the public or any groups sufficiently influential to cause them problems.

First, I should be clear that climate denial isn’t important here. For this debate you can largely ignore the often-asked questions about whether people think climate change is real and caused by human activity, which appear to show that a significant proportion (just under half, depending on the question) doubt that we’re responsible for climate change. Those polls reflect politics and identity, more than they do policy preferences.

I can say that because polls consistently find overwhelming support for the principle of limiting our emissions – including from many people who claim to think climate change is a natural phenomenon. For example, a Carbon Brief/Opinium 2013 poll found more than 3 in 4 support the UK working with other countries to cut emissions. That includes a majority of those who say climate change is mostly natural (as well as a quarter of those who said it’s not happening at all).

So there’s clearly widespread public support for the government’s overarching goal of cutting emissions.

But it’s a low-salience issue. A large majority might, when prompted by a poll, say they want the government to cut emissions, but few people care deeply. Consistently, only around one in five people seem to be really worried about climate change. For example, another Carbon Brief/Opinium poll found 19% saying they want the government to prioritise tackling climate change over promoting economic growth.

This has created an incentive for the government to pursue half-hearted climate policies.

The positive side of this is that it could be much worse. A small group of people – perhaps 15% at most, depending where you draw the line – oppose any attempt to cut emissions. But if the government did what these people want, for example by repealing the Climate Change Act, it would almost certainly alienate the much larger proportion who normally don’t think about the issue but still want it dealt with.

The image below shows what I mean by this.

I’ve arranged a few of the UK’s existing climate policies in rough order of the level of public opposition they face, from left (less opposition) to right (more opposition). Some policies are opposed by nearly nobody, like better home insulation and incentives for cleaner cars*. Others face more widespread opposition: mostly those that impose visible costs.

Government climate policy seems to be aimed at appealing to the majority of people, in the centre and right of the chart, who want it to deal with climate change, rather than at those who resist nearly all such measures.

UK climate policy 1

That’s the good news. The bad news comes when we wonder why the government doesn’t go further with its climate policies.

There’s certainly a strong case for it to do more. The UK is currently off course for the 2020 renewable energy target, it’s looking like the 4th carbon budget in the mid-‘20s will be a struggle, and we’re about to get a 5th carbon budget that will presumably set another target we’re heading towards missing.

There’s plenty the government could do to correct this if it had the inclination. A higher cap for the Levy Control Framework (or better still, a more progressive alternative) could stimulate investment in renewable power; much more effort on clean heating could begin to wean us off gas boilers; and decent incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles could greatly increase their uptake.

The trouble is, all of these would put more costs on the public, either through energy bills or some other mechanism**. Then there’s aviation, which has to be reined in if we’re to fulfil the Climate Change Act: ultimately meaning people will have to take fewer flights than they want at current prices.

But, despite an overwhelming majority of people saying the government should tackle climate change, there doesn’t look to be much appetite to accept costs like higher energy bills and less international travel.

I’ve extended the image to the right to reflect this. For example, a ComRes poll this weekend found only 23% saying they’d be prepared to pay more for energy bills to reduce climate change. This is further to the right than the measures we saw previously.

Now we see that government policy doesn’t only cut out the people who oppose all climate policy; it also excludes the views of those who want stronger measures than we currently have. Policies are mostly aimed at the people in the middle – still the majority – who say they want measures to cut emissions, but aren’t prepared to accept more costs to achieve them.

UK climate policy 2

It’s not hard to see the attraction for the government. Pursuing the policies in the middle allows it to say it’s acting on climate change, thus inoculating itself against the attack that it’s undermining our future. This keeps climate change as a low-salience issue. Most people don’t care enough to wade through the arguments about whether it’s doing enough. Meanwhile, if it adopted the policies on either the left or the right of the scale it would presumably alienate some of those in the middle.

But our current policies are nevertheless insufficient to meet the tough climate targets we face over the next decade. Achieving those would require the government to spend political capital arguing that we need measures (those at the right of the scale) that currently don’t have much support.

The make-up of the group on the right, who’d support higher costs for climate policies, is interesting. Among those who say they’d pay higher energy bills to tackle climate change, the Tories aren’t doing badly: they’re winning about as many of these people as they are of the whole population. So, the Tory brand doesn’t seem to be toxic to people who support higher-cost climate policies. That might suggest there could be a political gain for the Tories in going further with such policies: if they’ve already won some of this group, it’s possible they could win some of the 28% of Labour supporters or 35% of Lib Dem supporters who say the same.

But, the age and social grade splits show how this is a bit more complex. Support for such policies is particularly strong among the young (37% of 18-24 vs 19% of 65+) and social grades AB (29%) rather than C2 (19%) or DE (16%). On the one hand, there may be AB Labour voters who will be alienated by Corbyn and winnable for the Tories. But on the other, the Tories are clearly determined to retain their support among pensioners; and the damage tax credits cuts could do to their support among harder-up working families may well discourage the Tories from doing anything to further alienate those voters.

Adopting stronger climate policies could boost the Tory reputation as being modern and having a plan for the next 10 to 20 years: this might help them win younger, more affluent Labour/Lib Dem voters. But set against this is the damage that such policies might do to their support among less-well-off working voters. Since the latter group are often a key swing demographic in marginal seats, such concerns might explain why climate policies seem to be slanted in their favour.

Clearly this is an enormous challenge for those of us who want the UK to adopt policies that give a good chance of meeting our climate targets. To overcome this, the political cost of adopting such policies needs to be reduced (eg by devising them so the burden falls more on those who can most afford it) or the cost of not taking them needs to be increased (eg by getting better at showing why decent climate policies are needed).

Few politicians want to say that we’re going to have to accept restrictions, especially when it’s for a goal that not very many people are exercised about (unlike, say, security from terrorism). The government has so far shown little sign of taking this on, preferring instead to remain within a comfort zone where it’s mostly safe from being attacked for doing too little on the climate. Unless either the government develops a zeal for cutting emissions, or there’s a public shift towards wanting tougher climate policies, it’s not clear where the pressure will come from for this to change.



* The placing of the policies here is partly based on my own estimates. There are some numbers behind them, for example, the goal of signing international climate deals has a net support of +45pts and the carbon floor price has a net support of -11pts. But responses to questions about these policies depend very much on question wording and I haven’t seen any polls that test all of them in a comparable way. For example, I’ve put the “home improvements” policy on the left, but it moves rapidly to the right when it’s described in terms of the cost added to energy bills. The precise order doesn’t matter that much for the point I’m making.


** If we assume higher carbon prices, consistent with the Climate Change Act, in the ‘20s and ‘30s, a UK energy supply without more renewables would in fact be more expensive than otherwise – but this is still too obscure a point to be taken seriously in media coverage and public opinion.

How Labour can take on the government’s energy and climate policy

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources, Politics on November 6th, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off on How Labour can take on the government’s energy and climate policy

This was originally published on LabourList.

After tax credits, energy and climate policy are now the Tories’ greatest vulnerability and should be a top Labour priority. But while the shadow team have been attacking the Government, their criticisms haven’t yet damaged the Tories, allowing them to get away with policies that are killing jobs and unnecessarily increasing bills.

On energy, there’s an opportunity for Labour to label the Tories’ current approach as incompetent, with recent decisions appearing to be contradictory. One minute, the Government is cutting subsidies for solar and wind: both clean and popular sources of power. The next, it’s signing a deal for a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point that commits to generating electricity for decades at eye-watering costs.

This allows Labour to argue that the government’s decisions are directly making life worse for people across the country. The unexpected slashing of support for solar has already cost over 1000 jobs and the industry claims up to 27,000 are at risk as a result of government policy.

At the same time, the nuclear deal is expected to add over £1bn a year to households’ energy bills: the equivalent of around £40 per household, every year, for 35 years. While we need new power sources, few outside the government argue this is the best-value way of providing it.

Put these together and you’ve got a neat criticism of Government policy. We’re losing skilled manual jobs in what should a growth industry, while also putting an unnecessary cost on already-stretched families. Both fit with the tax credits frame that the government is undermining work and adding to the burden on poorer families.

The combination of the two is important, as it allows Labour to show it’s not just looking for government subsidies to protect jobs and promote growth, but that it also expects public money to be spent well and not wasted on overpriced vanity projects.

To her credit, Lisa Nandy has been attacking the government on this and Labour is developing policies for community energy production. But it’s been left to her and the rest of the shadow Energy and Climate Change team to take on the Tories about these issues and they haven’t had much attention from those not already interested in the area.

Labour could do more damage if the leadership gave this a higher priority. This is an opportunity to either force a change in policy or do lasting damage to the Tories’ reputation: the Hinkley Point contract could be seen as their Millennium Dome, but for now it’s not getting enough attention.

Similarly, Labour can force a change in the Government’s climate policy.

read more »

Do women really oppose fracking because they don’t understand science?

Posted in Communications, Energy sources on October 23rd, 2015 by Leo – 1 Comment

The new chair of the fracking industry body has annoyed a lot of people today by apparently saying women oppose shale gas extraction because they’re driven by instinct, not facts.

In the Times (£) interview (also quoted here), Professor Averil Macdonald said “women have not been persuaded by the facts [about fracking, and] more facts are not going to make a difference… They know that they don’t know and they don’t understand… we have got to understand the gut reaction… women are always concerned about threats to their family more than men. We are naturally protective of our children.”

It’s ok if you want to take a few seconds to smash everything.

Back with me? Right, let’s look at the facts.

First, are women less supportive of fracking? It certainly seems so. The latest YouGov/Nottingham poll finds 58% of men in favour, compared with 32% of women. The DECC tracking poll (the one I think is too expensive) finds a similar split*, and a YouGov/Sunday Times poll shows an even bigger gap.

So, the first part does look to be true: women are more likely to oppose fracking.

Secondly, are women less likely to be persuaded of the facts about fracking?

Since the facts about shale – like whether it causes earthquakes, contaminates drinking water, will cut energy bills or reduce our emissions – are disputed, it’s hard to say whether women accept the ‘facts’.

What Professor Macdonald presumably means is that women tend not to be persuaded by what she considers to be facts, ie that fracking is safe and generally a Good Thing.

If that was all, her comments perhaps wouldn’t be that controversial: she’d be saying women don’t support fracking because they disagree with the industry’s arguments. But that wouldn’t be very interesting and she’s, understandably, had a go at explaining why. Hence the claim, “they also know that they don’t know and they don’t understand”, so they go on gut instinct.

This, we can partly test. The Notts poll provides a bit of evidence for it: 85% of men correctly identify the process of ‘fracking’ as producing ‘shale gas’, compared with 65% of women.

This tells us only a little. At best, it shows that men are more likely to be aware of the terms relating to shale gas: it doesn’t say anything about their understanding or acceptance of the ‘facts’ relating to it.

What’s more, other polls show that men are more likely to claim to know things they don’t. When Carbon Brief tested recall of climate stories last year they included some made-up stories as a benchmark. For the most ‘recalled’ of those fake stories, men were a third more likely than women to say they’d heard it: about the same proportion as the difference in the shale question. So, some of the apparent evidence for men knowing more about shale could be to do with women being less willing to guess when they’re not confident. This can’t explain all the gender gap though, as you’d expect many of the winging-it men to get the wrong answer about shale gas.

But, this notwithstanding, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to go along with Professor Macdonald so far: women are less likely to support fracking and seem less confident than men in their knowledge about it.

That’s not enough though. Macdonald suggests a causal link: she argues women don’t support fracking because they know that they don’t know much about it, and so they go with their feminine instincts to protect their families and oppose such things.

There are a couple of problems with this (leaving aside the massive claim that women care more about their families than men do. Show me evidence or don’t make such big claims.)

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The soft underbelly of climate change policies

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on June 20th, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off on The soft underbelly of climate change policies

Brits worried about climate change have reasons to be pleased. Our emissions fell last year, global emissions may be turning around, and the Tory government has a new Energy Secretary in Amber Rudd who seems genuinely to care about climate change.

But with the Lib Dem green handbrake gone from government, the UK’s emissions cuts are under attack and may well be facing a greater threat now than they have any time since reducing emissions became government policy.

Now, the principal line of attack is one that people worried about climate change often don’t seem to take seriously, perhaps because it’s not one that comes from clichéd right-wingers. Instead of critics opposing climate policies because they, supposedly, hurt business or growth, the argument is that climate policies directly hurt the poor. This week the Spectator’s editor, Fraser Nelson, made that case.

(Don’t be distracted by the article’s nonsense about climate science: that’s just a stalking horse. No-one serious thinks there’s any reason to doubt what the IPCC says about the relation between emissions and warming)

The logic of Nelson’s argument is that squeezed households of the UK shouldn’t pay more to address climate change than their equivalents in other countries, and that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be wasted on subsidising inefficient green schemes like biomass boilers. Nelson is respected and influential and you can see the appeal for a Tory government that will increasingly try to occupy the political centreground up to the 2020 election.

One implication of this for green policy has already emerged with the plan to curtail the Renewables Obligation subsidy for onshore wind. Since this is the cheapest form of green power, and, if Nelson’s argument wins, it couldn’t be replaced with more expensive forms (tidal barrages, offshore wind etc), the only option seems to be going all out for fracking in the hope it’ll be a success and bring down costs in the short term.

Fracking probably wouldn’t breach our climate targets until after 2025, by which time ministers in the current government will presumably be gone so won’t have to face the consequences of that breach. But such decisions made now – in the name of protecting the UK poor from the costs of energy policy – would make it much harder and more expensive to get back on target for 80% cuts by 2050.

A similar argument is also made by the right about the supposed costs of climate policy for the world’s poor. It holds that the pursuit of renewable energy, being more expensive than fossil fuels, is slowing down development and so doing harm in poorer counties. Use of developing countries’ land to grow biofuels is criticised on a similar basis.

The logic of this is, again, that the focus in these countries should be on reducing poverty rather than emissions (ironically, some argue against emissions cuts in rich countries on precisely the (false) premise that poor countries aren’t cutting their own emissions – the two arguments together would amount to no-one ever cutting emissions).

The challenge for people worried about climate change is that these critics are onto something. Poorer households in high-emitting countries shouldn’t pay more to limit climate change if wealthier households can pay instead. We shouldn’t be prioritising spending taxpayers’ money on poorly structured subsidies for green heating of rich people’s homes. And the poorest people in the world certainly shouldn’t see slower development and less secure access to food than they would if their countries followed a high-emitting path to development.

Climate policy advocates already make some arguments to address all this. An IPPR report this week showed how subsidies for renewables should be restructured to avoid costs falling on poorer households. And the international arguments are easy to refute: no-one I know of now advocates biofuel use if it threatens forests or food supplies, and renewable energy projects are subsidised internationally so they don’t cost more than plants that burn fossil fuels (although even then, we should indeed look at whether the subsidies could be better spent on development, particularly to increase resilience to a more unstable climate, with greater emissions-reductions coming from wealthier countries).

But still, those arguments aren’t yet sufficiently developed by people worried about climate change, nor are they made often enough.

Increasingly, it is people arguing against emissions cuts who claim to be on the side of the poor – campaigning against environmental activists who are presented as blindly pursuing climate policies with no regard for their cost. It’s becoming the soft underbelly of climate policies, vulnerable to attack in the way the earlier battlegrounds (climate science, feasibility of emissions cuts) no longer are.

While there’s much to cheer in the UK’s efforts to reduce emissions, people worried about climate change need to recognise that the arguments have moved on. The new attacks are putting them in danger of being cast, absurdly, as the ones who don’t care about the poor – and giving an excuse for the watering down of the successes of the last decade.

The public are wrong about wind power. Why it matters (and why it doesn’t)

Posted in Energy sources on March 2nd, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off on The public are wrong about wind power. Why it matters (and why it doesn’t)

There’s a current fashion in polling to ask questions designed to show that the public are wrong about particular issues. MORI got lots of coverage for a poll in 2013 revealing how badly people misperceive facts about UK life; they did a similar poll last year, replicating the results internationally.

A poll for RenewableUK has today done the same thing for wind power. It showed people overestimate 14-fold the amount consumers are charged through their electricity bills to subsidise wind energy. It also found a large majority under-estimate the popularity of wind power among the public overall.

Neither of these is particularly surprising. Wind farms have a reputation for facing local opposition, while some newspapers spend much of their time emphasising subsidies for green energy.

But in terms of their significance, I think the two questions are very different.

Finger in the wind

The apparent overestimate of the subsidies given to wind farms doesn’t feel that important. I’m sceptical that the average response of £259 subsidy in a £1300 bill is a meaningful answer, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, there may have been an anchoring effect in the poll. The question referred to a figure (£1300) as the average bill. Plenty of studies have shown that doing this skews responses towards that figure. I suspect the answer would have been much lower if the figure hadn’t been quoted in the question.

Secondly, people don’t seem that influenced in their views of wind power by the perceived level of government subsidies. We know from many polls that wind is among the most popular sources of power, even when built locally. We also know that people are far more likely to blame rising bills on energy company profiteering than on green levies.

So I suspect the finding on subsidies isn’t that significant. It’s artificial in that people largely haven’t thought about a figure before; when prompted they pluck a figure from the air (possibly anchored upwards); but their dominant view is that rising prices have been the fault of energy companies, and they still like wind power.

Spiral of silence

But the meta-question – what do you think people think about wind – is much more interesting and worrying to me.

This is partly because it provides a possible basis for what some have described as the Climate Silence: the way most people are worried about climate change, yet largely seem reluctant to talk about it because they think it’s an unpopular issue. Thinking that most people don’t like renewable energy might feed this silence; it might also feed a view that personal efforts to reduce emissions are wasted when others aren’t interested in doing so.

And specifically on wind power, the result fits neatly with what other polling has shown about some MPs’ views of wind power. Despite the popularity of wind power, just 16% of Tory MPs support onshore wind. Perhaps part of the reason may be that they, like most of the public, think wind power is much less popular than it really is*.

This seems important to me because decisions about whether or not more wind power plants are to be built may be shaped by this continued misunderstanding of the popularity of wind turbines.


*I suppose another option is they also think it’s much more subsidised from energy bills than it really is.

5 years of this blog: my favourite 5 charts

Posted in Attitudes, Bad polling, Climate Sock, Energy sources on November 23rd, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off on 5 years of this blog: my favourite 5 charts

I’ve been writing this blog for five years.  Most grateful to anyone who’s bothered to read it and to everyone who’s re-posted it or used my findings elsewhere.

In the spirit of these things, here are my five favourite charts that I’ve produced over the years:

5. Most people don’t understand the word ‘progressive’ 

Words are useful when they help people understand things. The word ‘progressive’ has become code among politics people for left-wing, or perhaps centre-left, or perhaps liberal in general.

It seems more common in the US and perhaps there people understand it as meaning ‘left-wing’. They don’t here though.

Here, for most people it has no political meaning at all: it just means “someone I like”:

Read the post


4. Wind farms are really popular, even when they’re built nearby

On one level I sort of understand the Tory Party’s opposition to wind farms. I’m sure there are some people that viscerally hate them, maybe even majorities in some communities, and perhaps Tory policy wonks think they’re a bad investment.

But the way some senior Tories talk, it’s as if wind farms are as popular neighbours as paedophile collectives – particularly compared with how they talk about fracking. They seem to assume that wind farms are hated, and everyone knows they’re hated.

Which is odd, because this is what people think about potential local power sources:

Read the post

3. People no longer think the monarchy make Britain better

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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:




This fracking poll finding is one of the least convincing I’ve ever seen

Posted in Bad polling, Energy sources on August 11th, 2014 by Leo – 5 Comments

A new poll has found over 3 times as many people support fracking as oppose it. That’s a reversal of previous polls, in which most people generally opposed fracking. So has there been a change in the public mood?


Instead, Populus and UK Onshore Oil and Gas have published one of the most misleading poll findings I’ve ever seen.

Short of faking results or fiddling the weights or sample (which this poll doesn’t), there are two ways to get a poll to give the answers you want. You can ask a series of leading questions that get respondents thinking the way you want them to, then ask the question you’re really interested in. Or you can word the questions so respondents only see half the argument.

This poll does both.

The opening three questions are statements that form the basis of the argument for fracking. They’re phrased without any costs (free ponies for all), counter-arguments or alternatives:

  • The UK needs to invest more in a whole range of new infrastructure, including housing, roads and railways, airport capacity and new energy sources
  • The UK needs to use a range of energy sources to meet the country’s energy needs
  • Britain needs to be able to produce its own energy so it isn’t reliant on gas from other countries

Then comes the clincher. A question on fracking that’s 146 words long, describes the process with reassuring terms like “tiny fractures” and “approved non-hazardous chemicals”, and tells us that it could meet the UK’s natural gas demand for 50 years. No challenge to the data, no costs or consequences, no alternative energy sources.

This isn’t an attempt to find out what the public think about fracking. It’s message testing.

That’s what political candidates or businesses do before launching a campaign. They fire a load of messages at respondents to see how much support they could gain in a theoretical world where only their view is heard, and which arguments are most effective.

It’s a useful technique for finding out how people might respond to your arguments. But it’s not supposed to represent what people actually think now.

Except not only was this poll press released as if it shows what people currently think, it was reported as such by the BBC, Press Association and the Telegraph.

This is the kind of thing that destroys trust in polling. I can see why UKOOG wanted it, and I get that the journalists wanted a counter-intuitive story (though it’s a shame they didn’t question what they were given). But I’m surprised that a reputable pollster went for it.


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.


  • 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).

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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