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British poll finds fewer believe in climate change

Written By: - Date published: 4:30 pm, February 25th, 2010 - 45 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment - Tags:

According to a Guardian poll today, public conviction about the threat of climate change has declined with the proportion of adults who believe climate change is “definitely” a reality dropped by 30% over the last year, from 44% to 31%. Overall around nine out of 10 people questioned still appear to accept some degree of global warming.

While I am pleased that so many people accept at least some global warming exists, it is a concern that those who were most certain appear to be dropping in number. The changes that are required to minimise the impacts of warming are best motivated by real belief!

Two comments from the article summarise this well:

“It’s going to be a hard sell to make people make changes to their [people’s] behaviours unless there’s something else in it for them – [such as] energy efficiency measures saving money on fuel bills,” said Edward Langley, Ipsos Mori’s head of environment research. “It’s a hard sell to tell people not to fly off for weekends away if you’re not wholly convinced by the links. Even people who are [convinced] still do it.”

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, said concern about fluctuations in public opinion have also prompted many environment groups to re-think their approach to campaigning – which has often focused on threats of climate disaster and making people feel guilty for their part in it. “All of us have [talked about these changes],” said Sauven. “A lot of [recent] headlines have been grossly distorted, but that doesn’t get away from the fact it’s quite a complex issue, so we have got to talk about what is engaging and positive in terms of the response [which] can have many benefits to our society, for example energy security.”

I would be really interested to know what sort of numbers exist in New Zealand – and whether they vary by political orientation!

45 comments on “British poll finds fewer believe in climate change ”

  1. big bruv 1

    Thank god the Poms are smart enough to see the climate change con for what it is.

    Now, all we need to do is get that idiot Nick Smith to change his mind and we can scrap the entire ETS.

  2. You are always asking for it when you poll the population at large about a technical scientific subject. The basic problem is that most of them will not understand the science and whether through denial or fear or the hope that our world is not in deep do dos will say no.

    • Our prime minister is not “seriously worried about” anything. This does not mean that our country is not facing huge problems.

      What a strange poll and what a waste of broadband.

      They ought to try and educate people about the science rather than give trolls the ability to record their prejudices.

      • lukas 3.1.1

        “Our prime minister is not “seriously worried about’ anything. This does not mean that our country is not facing huge problems.”

        Not sure what that has got to do with the link… but OK…

        “What a strange poll and what a waste of broadband.”

        Like I said when I posted it “Whilst not a scientific poll”. DANCR asked if there were other polls out there specifically about NZ.

        “They ought to try and educate people about the science rather than give trolls the ability to record their prejudices.”

        I guess so, but when the science is repeatedly undermined by serious flaws, what are you going to educate with?

        • NickS


          I guess so, but when the science is repeatedly undermined by lying morons, what are you going to educate with?

          ‘fixed it for you.

          So lukas, would you kindly explain why the quantum physics behind carbon oxygen bonds in CO2 absorbing IR photons and re-emitting IP photons (in a lower part of the IR spectrum) is wrong + other greenhouse gases like methane, halo-carbons and nitrogen species? Then please explain why the current modelling + observational evidence which shows that CO2 is the current main driver of increases in temperatures, and why H2O isn’t?

          And of course, please explain why when we do palaeoclimate reconstructions, we find that the drivers of the MWP and Little Ice age are driven by normal climate systems, unlike the current increases in temperatures, which show no mechanistic link to either known climate systems, nor to extra-terrestrial climate drivers such as orbit and solar output?

          There’s also the biological indicators from changes in species ranges, and temperature dependent flowering/emergence times for flora and fauna which general results in earlier flowering/emergence, which ties quite nicely to firmly observed changes in surface temperatures. So how exactly are these not indicators of climate change lukas?

          Of course, this all depends on whether or not you actually understand the basic time series methods that underpin the more sophisticated methods that are used to confirm the the warming signal in historical temperature data from direct and proxy records, along with correcting for variations in measurement from local conditions (i.e. the much over-stated urban heat island effect). Let alone how it’s possible to reconstruct historical temperatures from multiple proxy sources.

          Though one is hardly confident you’ll actually produce non-facepalm answers. Despite the above all being “easily” available via google scholar and blogs like realclimate, and tamino’s open mind et al. Of course, this is all dependent on whether or not you can think…

          • mickysavage

            NickS that is really unfair. Lukas does not want to debate the science, he wants to trot out some slogans and suggest that there is “doubt” about the science.

            To be fair there is doubt.

            Some scientists think that we are stuffed and past the point of no return. The Tundra surrounding the North Pole will be exposed and huge amounts of Methane will be released.

            Some think that unless we immediately apply the breaks and cut CO2 emissions then we will enter into the feedback mechanism the first group is convinced will happen.

            Some think that we have to take drastic action and that if the first world are not carbon neutral by 2050 we are stuffed.

            And the residue think that either there is no climate change or that it is being caused by, well, sun spots or moon beams or aliens or something else.

            All of the sane ones think that we are either in a difficult situation or stuffed. The strange ones think that things will be fine.

            There is doubt. I would prefer to follow the sane ones and try and do something.

            • NickS

              But forcing people to think is sooo fun 😛

              And yes, the feed-backs are a major issue that the IPCC is yet to fully address, although the actual research in the area is steaming full ahead, indicating strongly the risks of the carbon reserves in tundra being released by warming as methane, and worryingly rapid ice sheet failures in Greenland and the West Antarctica. Then there’s the drying out of rain forest systems leading to major losses of carbon to the air through fires and decomposition as drying out soil ends up allowing soil carbon stores to be oxidised to CO2…

              Oh yeah, the IP in the bit on IR photon absorption in C-O etc bonds is meant to be IR *cough*

  3. Santi 4

    Slowly coming to the realisation the big con Global Warming (and NZ’s ETS) are.

  4. Draco T Bastard 5

    While I am pleased that so many people accept at least some global warming exists, it is a concern that those who were most certain appear to be dropping in number.

    They don’t see any direct evidence of it in their daily lives so they stop listening to the scientists.

  5. Roger 6

    It is interesting that this lack of conviction about climate change almost coincides with the introduction of emissions trading schemes. People seem to change when money enters the picture.

  6. grumpy 7

    Everyone noticing how the topic is changing from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change”?

    [lprent: Not really – that was always the topic. It is pleasant that the scientific illiterates are finally getting the consequences. ]

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      Yes, The MSM started reporting it correctly – only took them a couple of decades.

    • lukas 7.2

      Everyone noticing if you suggest that the science is not settled the replies and attacks become personal?

      • lprent 7.2.1

        I suspect that is largely because

        1. Science is never ‘settled’, it is always subject to review and new hypothesis. If you want certainty, then get religion. Science is always uncertain

        2. Climate change is pretty damn settled at the base physical level. However there is still quite a lot of uncertainty about the timing of effects because there is quite a lot of uncertainties about the buffering effects. Trying to predict an unpredictable biosphere is tricky when it is stable – even trickier when it is getting rapid irreversible change.

        3. Anyone who knows science is aware of these factors. It is pretty clear that the deniers and skeptics generally don’t. Otherwise why would keep repeating the sane daft things over and over again. For instance the repetition of the ‘hockey stick’ the research for that was done in 1990 and hasn’t been a major factor for a decade.

        4. You get the impression that deniers and skeptics are far more concerned with not changing than thinking

        I don’t know about you, but I get quite impatient with fools.

        • TightyRighty

          I’m glad you have started to differentiate between deniers and sceptics. It always brassed me off that you labelled anyone who disagreed with you as a “denier”, I’m sceptical about climate change, but, my beliefs can change. thank you lprent for toning down the rhetoric and allowing debate to begin on at least this issue.

          • lprent

            It has always been tough hearing the skeptics over the repetitious deniers. You don’t shout enough…

            • TightyRighty

              why should i shout? I hate shrill people and will apologise and berate myself for being so when i know i’m guilty of it. shouting, which could include overly emotive rhetoric when in text form, is a sure fire way of stifling debate and is not about to make me change my beliefs.

              I would like to see a change to more sustainable materials used in clothing and furnishings. it’s unfortunate that so many people are unwilling to use wool as an alternative to cotton and synthetics, despite the price tag. if we all focused on replacing one or two cotton items with wool items, not only will we be helping the economy, we will be saving an acre of land somewhere in the world. are we all to stigmatised by sheep jokes to use wool? with little changes like these to our daily lifestyle we can help the planet, instill a sense of quality in our belongings thereby reducing waste, and avoid harmful climate taxes.

        • lprent

          Opps I forgot to point out that global warming is a causation. Climate change is the effect caused by global warming. The local climate changes from global warming can be anything from increased temperatures to reduced temperatures (eg northern Europe), increased precipitation to decreased percipitation, increased winds to decreased winds, etc.

          The problem is that generally there will be increased uncertainty about the weather as the climate gets more extreme with the extra energy shunted into the climate systems. The big question is if there is going to be time to adjust our farming systems, or if they will eventually collapse. The climate for the last ten thousand years has been extraordinarily stable – probably what allowed human civilization to flourish.

      • NickS 7.2.2

        Everyone noticing if you suggest that the science is not settled the replies and attacks become personal?

        “If I sound angry, then, yeah, I am. I’m tired of ignorance held up as inspiration, where vicious anti-intellectualism is considered a positive trait, and where uninformed opinion is displayed as fact.”
        -Phil Plait

        And take thy false civility and rotate on it, without lube, since you seem to think you can avoid answering questions about the science with diversions such as the above.

  7. illuminatedtiger 8

    Don’t you just love this. It’s about as useless as polling the public on the sex of a pet rabbit. Climate change is 100%, indisputable fact based science and no amount of cash from big oil or the Republican Party is ever going to change it.

  8. vto 9

    It would be most interesting to see how these poll type things fluctuate over time and how they relate to the reality. Of course we will have to keep the records going for a while to ensure the reality has been arrived at before the picture can be viewed by comparing the reality to the polls.

    And then compare it to previous dubious realities such as whether the world was flat or round.

    Once we have done that we will have a good idea of how close polls are to reality and that will forearm us human beans for the next great misadventure…

    … unless history repeats via human forgetfulness…

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      unless history repeats via human forgetfulness

      That is certainly a possibility but I think that we will remember this one. The records are too widespread to be completely lost and the few of us at the far end of the anthropogenic ELE are going to be wondering why we didn’t do anything to prevent it when we realised that what we were doing was going to cause a huge amount of damage. Thankfully, the records for that is probably even more widespread.

  9. Bill 10

    The UK has just had its coldest winter in 30 years. And as we know, many people confound weather and climate.

    Those poll numbers will change dramatically should summer weather in 2010 be hotter and drier than expected.

    Meanwhile, people keep on getting up, going to work and earning a buck…. which is one of the principle drivers behind CO2 levels. But ‘nobody’ wants to talk about that one, preferring to sell the idea, or believe that the same old, same old plus a light bulb or two will do the trick.


  10. jaymam 11

    The Guardian is very confused. The question should not be about whether climate change is a reality but whether climate change is man made or not.

  11. Armchair Critic 12

    I’m considering changing my beliefs about gravity. Currently I believe in it, but I might change my mind. I am happy to be surveyed on my beliefs about gravity. If enough people stop believing in gravity then that will surely prove Newton was wrong.

  12. RedBack 13

    You are spot on Bill – I’m a kiwi living in the UK. The number of climate change deniers in the UK has been slowly creeping back up as the UK has endured one of its coldest winters in almost 20 years. Unfortunatly due to the lack of “easy to digest” facts about climate change your average Brit is still getting weather confused with climate. They can’t be blamed considering the largest circulating newspapers in the UK are the right wing tabloids. None of these can differentiate between climate or weather and are still doing their upmost to convince their readership that “If its snowing in your backyard in Hertfordshire then global warming must be bogus”. The sad thing is that while the Guardian is the bastion of left journalism in the UK its readership is miniscule compared to the likes of climate change denying moron rags like The Sun or the Daily Mail. The Guardian could try to educate folks about climate change but it would be preaching to the converted. Unlike NZ Green politics just isn’t being seriously courted in mainstream politics and until the UK ditches its undemocratic FPP system I can’t see it changing.

  13. V 14

    “Unfortunatly due to the lack of “easy to digest’ facts about climate change your average Brit is still getting weather confused with climate”

    I think this has to do with the reality that CO2 induced global warming is still a theory. It would be better if all sides could agree to further research and agreement for gradual implementation of technological improvements and introduction of clean air technologies.

    Instead all I see is money going to PR firms/ex-politicians to manipulate public opinion in either direction with prophecies of end-of-civilisation scenarios. Neither of which is remotely helpful.
    The only way this issue can be solved without putting millions back into poverty is through technological change.

    • Let’s spend the next 40 years checking if the “theory” is reality. If it is the world’s environment will be well and truly stuffed by then but at least we will be sure …

  14. Draco T Bastard 15

    I think this has to do with the reality that CO2 induced global warming is still a theory.

    One that has not been disproven and all the empirical data supports. Your problem is that you don’t know what a scientific theory is.

  15. Classical Liberal 16

    OK – so the science is settled – CO2 is rising, it’s caused by people and the Earth’s average temperature has risen slightly over the last 150 years [although not for the last 15 years].

    What is not settled is, firstly, how important is Climate Change in the litany of issues facing the human race and the Earth [overpopulation, food shortages, oil availability, HIV/AIDS, water etc. etc.] and, secondly, what are the appropriate policy actions to address these issue.

    For example, fresh water and its use is a crisis issue right now and addressing climate change will not directly fix it. The Aral Sea, the southwest USA, the Murray-Darling basin are stuffed because of lousy policy towards water abstraction and pricing. And now the Canterbury acquifer is heading the same way because of poor land use policy.

    And we know that the temperature during the Medieval Warming was higher than it is now and it had beneficial effects. Without the surplus harvests created thereby the Medieval economy would not have grown enough to produce the great cathedrals or the Renaissance.

    So I’m a sceptic – not about the science but about policy responses. Yes climate is changing but it’s not the end of the world and the policies being touted to address it are flawed.

    • NickS 16.1

      NB, haven’t had much sleep, therefore the following will be messy…

      See the Stern Report + the one the Petagon put out.

      Main threats from memory are:
      1) reductions in precipitation and loss of glacial ice in regions that rely on melt water.

      2) heat-waves causing +20% drops in cereal crop yields (I have a paper somewhere…) + accompanying increases in droughts.

      3) spread of disease carrying organisms and invasions of pathogens into areas due to increases in temperatures

      4) raises in sea level that inundate coastal infrastructure and housing

      5) the above all contribute to very real potential disruption of political stability and the raise the risks of water wars erupting in water stressed regions + refugee flows from famines and loss of cropping areas and/or urban zones and conflicts, along with disruption to ocean borne global food trade and general trade… And so significant negative knock on effects on the global economy.

      Of course, this is straight from memory, since the global change course I’m doing is ecology focused, so impacts on human societies are more focused on loss of biodiversity and resultant losses/reductions therein of ecosystem services, in which climate change is considered a minor driver in the immediate future compared to over-exploitation, land use change etc, etc (r.e. the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), and a significant potential risk in the long term.


      For example, fresh water and its use is a crisis issue right now and addressing climate change will not directly fix it. The Aral Sea, the southwest USA, the Murray-Darling basin are stuffed because of lousy policy towards water abstraction and pricing. And now the Canterbury acquifer is heading the same way because of poor land use policy.

      Or perhaps you should read the long term predictions for these regions, in which reduction in precipitation within the drainage regions is predicted to occur and has been seen to occur, exacerbating the poor water management issues + heat stress from droughts. And yes, dairy farming outside the coastal strip in Canterbury is bloody stupid with the summer climate we generally get, particularly given how much water is wasted by the irrigation systems.

      And we know that the temperature during the Medieval Warming was higher than it is now and it had beneficial effects. Without the surplus harvests created thereby the Medieval economy would not have grown enough to produce the great cathedrals or the Renaissance.


      Temperatures where only higher on a regional, rather than on a global scale as seen today, per the (latest) hockey stick reconstruction. Also, having done some ground work in Renaissance history, I’d disagree about the MWP being the main driver, you also had the major social changes the Plagues brought, along with riches of knowledge brought back from the Crusades and La Reconquista and trade with Asia. You’re also making an argument from ignorance by discounting and ignoring all the known negatives from the increases in temperatures, such as changes in precipitation, heat-waves etc.

      And yes, the other threats we face are important, but given that many of the threats climate change bring will obviously exacerbate these other issues, meaning we can’t just put it aside for per the Stern Report, it will only likely fuck humanity over further.

      • Classical Liberal 16.1.1

        Stern and the Hockey Stick in one post – give me a break and use something that hasn’t been totally discredited.

        • lprent

          Nick didn’t mention the hockey stick – why are all of you marching morons obsessed with research from 20 years ago?

          The Stern report is out of date, but there is nothing particularly wrong with it – just the nutters who seem to think that nit-picking minor flaws invalidates whole reports…..

    • lprent 16.2

      Your basic ideas are flawed.

      You’re implicitly making assumptions about climate remaining stable – because climate is what feeds water into those river system and aquifers.

      Your stats is useless – temp has risen over the last decade – just not at a 95% confidence level required to prove climate change.

      Your earth sciences is useless. The ‘Medieval Warming’ was a regional event in Europe which doesn’t show up to a significant level elsewhere in the world.

      Your history is flawed. The harvests were bumper harvests as much as anything else because the population was smaller. The various black death epidemics that went through Europe in the same period decimated the number of people that the harvest had to feed. The same amount of arable land was easily able to feed a smaller number of people.

      Why exactly should we think that you have any ability to talk about policies requiring knowledgeable input?

      • NickS 16.2.1

        I missed that one on the temperatures:

        OK so the science is settled CO2 is rising, it’s caused by people and the Earth’s average temperature has risen slightly over the last 150 years [although not for the last 15 years].

        “Slightly”? Ye mind eating old-gods, it’s still been enough of a change to cause large scale changes in ice coverage and thickness, glacial melting and changes in habitat ranges and flowering/emergence times for flora and fauna + changes in precipitation patterns that have in some cases very negative effects*

        And on the “no warming” meme, it’s referring to statistically significant warming, i.e. a rise in temperatures which is a certain number of standard deviations away from the mean temperature, and given how noisy climate data is, the interval of the standard deviation will be quite large… Which means even a clear warming signal can be non-significant in a 15 period time slice, although it depends on the amount of variation present, so sometimes you do get stat.significant warming signals.

        Anyhow, realclimate has a piece on this:

        *can’t find the smaller link, Peter’s probably taken the video down to re-do the sound.

        • NickS

          Arse, can someone fix the messed up link? I ran out of time while editing it…

          [lprent: Which one – they all look ok to me. ]

        • lprent

          Your response was sooooo much nicer than mine – but essentially said the same thing.

          The issue with the buffering is the question of where the energy and CO2 has been going… I’m a great believer in the Murphy’s rule (I suspect all programmers are) when I look at risks.

          I suspect that the energy that has been sucked up in melting ice over the last century has probably gotten structurally deeper into the ice than we currently have data for. There is a lack of baseline data because we only started pulling cores a relatively short time ago.

          Similarly we have bugger all data on the amount of heat and CO2 that has been sucked into the colder deep currents, and even what the effect of that will be on the speeds and outlets. Hopefully some of that data is now being gotten from the passive seafloor monitoring that is starting to go in.

          But using Murphy, you’d have to assume that the worst is more likely to happen. All of those effects will be bad, and will cause problems at the same time. The models are a bit simplistic….

      • Classical Liberal 16.2.2

        Water issues can be addressed without an ETS, cap and trade, carbon taxes etc. Fixating on climate change diverts attention from something that can be fixed now.

        Even Phil “Hide the Decline” Jones concedes there has been no statistically significant warming in the last 15 years.

        Brian Fagan [The Great Warming, Floods, Famines and Emperors] suggests that the MWP was global and had variable effects some good [Greenland able to be used for farming] and some bad [Southwest USA pueblo civilisations falling].

        Bumper harvests before mechanised agriculture require lots of people. The main European plague event was 14th century at the very end of the MWP. So I think your reading of history is flawed.

        • lprent

          I think that you are very very bad at understanding statistics. The meaning of what Phil Jones said appears to escape your abilities.

          You notice that Brian Fagan only ‘suggests’ it. The reason for that is that there is no evidence of a statistically viable causal link. There is however considerable evidence that many regions had little of no climate change during the same period outside of the North Atlantic region.


          The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) occurred from about AD 8001300, during the European Middle Ages. Initial research on the MWP and the following Little Ice Age (LIA) was largely done in Europe, where the phenomenon was most obvious and clearly documented. It was initially believed that the temperature changes were global.[11] However, this view has been questioned; the IPCC Third Assessment Report from 2001 summarises this research, saying “… current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this time frame, and the conventional terms of ‘Little Ice Age’ and ‘Medieval Warm Period’ appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or global mean temperature changes in past centuries”.[12] Global temperature records taken from ice cores, tree rings, and lake deposits, have shown that, taken globally, the Earth may have been slightly cooler (by 0.03 degrees Celsius) during the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ than in the early and mid-20th century.[13] Crowley and Lowery (2000) [14] note that “there is insufficient documentation as to its existence in the Southern hemisphere.”

          You’re correct about the timing link. I’ve never bothered to remember the dates MWP or the LIA because they were clearly shown not to be global when I was at uni studying earth sciences 30 years ago.

          Wrong about the agricultural. There were two periods that required labour, during planting and during harvesting – which could be were staggered. But the biggest innovation in agriculture was the horse collar – not mechanisation. Being able to use draft animals without choking them massively reduced the amount of amount of human labour required. Which of course is why the number of people in monasteries in Europe went up so drastically after the horse collar came into widespread use.

          I suspect you’re confusing the Medieval period with the Romans….

        • lprent

          BTW: I’m trying to figure out if you even understand the issues around water. The first part of understanding water management is understanding the issues that affect supply.

          The second part is understanding how that local ecologies are dependent on it. That is so you don’t disrupt anything important that you’d later regret.

          The third part is how humans use it. It looks to me like you are only interested in this bit. A VERY poor place to start a discussion on water policy.

          So far you don’t look like you understand the first part.

  16. Salsy 17

    There were a number of people watching the UK Freeze 2009/10 with reasonable fear and concern. Despite the number of marine robots drifting the gulf stream and reporting back, there is evidence that suggests that if too much polar ice ends up in the current, that pump will again stall, and things change in a very short time.

    If (and most likely when) it stops, the UK will again freeze, this time winter will become summer – still frozen and back to an even colder winter and so on. No food will grow, energy needs will not be met, all production grinds to a halt… The crisis just in the UK alone will be catastrophic. Who gets the blame then? Who is accountable? No one is going to blame Climate Change deniers, people will blame Governements for failing to respond despite being given all the warning data.

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