Climate change opinion is now up to pre-Climategate levels

Over a short period at the start of 2010, belief that climate change is real and manmade fell sharply. Since then, it recovered slightly but had remained lower than it was at the end of 2009.

But now three polls have shown that the decline has been fully reversed.

The fall in agreement with climate science was widely covered at the time. A BBC poll in February ‘10 was typical of the shift and reporting:

This fall in agreement with climate science followed ‘Climategate’, the Copenhagen Conference, and a particularly cold winter. Individually, none of these are good explanations for the fall – see here  – and I think the most likely explanation is that they together prompted a change in media tone about climate change, which then affected public attitudes.

Since then we’ve seen some evidence that concern about climate change has been increasing again. But these new polls are the first to indicate that level of belief that climate change is real and manmade has returned to where it was at the end of 2009 (note the distinction between ‘concern’ and ‘belief’: both matter, but while it’s symbolically important we shouldn’t get too hung up on ‘belief’).

Each poll asks the question in different ways:

The Guardian/ICM poll found that the proportion that thinks climate change is real and manmade is the same now as it was in December ‘09 (and credit to them for including a link to the data in the article – still unusual).

Although Dec ’09 was after ‘Climategate’ broke, it was before public opinion changed, so this is a good ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison.

The Guardian’s analysis is that the poll shows that the economic climate has had little impact on public attitudes to global warming. I disagree with this for two reasons.

Firstly, the Guardian didn’t ask the question between Dec ’09 and June ’12, so didn’t pick up concern falling and then coming back up.

Secondly, other polls have showed that the recession took attention away from everything non-economic, including climate change.

So from this poll it looks like we’ve overcome some doubts about climate change. But to say there’s been “a remarkable pattern of stability in acceptance of climate change as established fact” isn’t likely.

The second poll, by the Sunday Times/YouGov, finds a similar pattern. Agreement that climate change is real and manmade has increased over the last two years:

We don’t have a comparable poll from late ’09, so can’t see whether we’re back to the same level as we were then, but the Sunday Times article argued that the numbers agreeing with climate science is in decline.

As Carbon Brief pointed out, this was a very selective and misleading reading of the data. That said, it is true that even with the recent recovery, agreement is still lower than it was in 2008 (and probably lower still than in about 2005).

Finally, Angus Reid have published international data that also suggest UK agreement with climate science is at the same level now as it was in Dec ’09.

This one in fact suggests that the numbers recovered as early as summer ’10. I haven’t seen this replicated anywhere else, and haven’t seen the full polls so am a bit wary. But it does at least support the trend shown in the other polls.

So put together, the conclusion is clear. ‘Climategate’, recent cold winters and the economic climate no longer have any discernible impact on public belief that climate change is real and man-made.

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