Climate scientists ARE trusted – and other lessons from the new poll

Carbon Brief’s poll has tons of interesting findings – some of them covered in last week’s blogs.

But as with any apparently new information, it’s useful to put the results in the context of what we’ve seen before. How does the poll fit with what others have shown?

I’m going to pick on three places where it’s interesting to compare the new poll with previous ones.

1. Doubts about climate change aren’t rising

I’ve been banging on about this for a while. Poll after poll is showing that belief that climate change is real and man-made is at the same level it was at before Copenhagen, ‘climategate’, the UK’s cold winters, and the subsequent dip in belief.

The Carbon Brief poll adds yet more weight to this. Compared with a question asked by ICM in ’09 and last year, the results show no movement:

It really is time we stopped saying that belief in climate change is falling.

2. ‘Belief’ in climate doesn’t mean that much anyway

But when I’m not banging on about the fact that climate denial isn’t rising, I can usually be found arguing that focusing on ‘belief’ in climate change misses the point.

One of my favourite charts is from a post-Copenhagen poll that showed that, even among those who said they don’t think global warming has been proven, a majority wanted a reduction in worldwide emissions.

I’ve taken this to indicate there’s a bunch of people who respond to questions about whether they ‘believe’ in climate change as if they’re being asked “are you a tree-hugging leftie who hates business?” – so they say no to that question, but still want the government to do something about climate change.

But is that true? A question in the Carbon Brief poll supports that view, albeit not quite to the extent seen in the Copenhagen poll.

Of those who think climate change or global warming is mostly caused by natural processes (about a third of the total), 45% think that tackling climate change should still be part of the government’s economic programme:

3. There isn’t a big problem with trust in climate scientists

A poll conducted in March ’11 and reported 18 months later by LWEC found that only 38% agreed they trusted climate scientists to tell the truth about climate change.

This prompted soul-searching among those worried about public perceptions of climate change: if even climate scientists aren’t trusted, what hope is there for building support for action to tackle climate change?

Even before the Carbon Brief poll, I was sceptical. The phrasing of the LWEC question – “we can trust climate scientists to tell us the truth” – is a very high bar. At a time when trust is low, expecting people to say they trust anyone to tell them the truth, without more reassurance, is asking a lot. I’m also not a fan of the way the trust question came after questions about exaggeration of climate change and agreement among scientists.

Add to this Mori’s trust index, which finds scientists are among the most trusted groups, and that trust in them has gone up over the last decade.

So I don’t think we should be particularly surprised that the new poll showed scientists are the most trusted to deliver information about climate change by a massive margin. The mistake was ever to doubt that they were.

Data from the polls will be published this week.


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