Why are people not convinced by climate change?

The front page of today’s Times carries a poll which finds only 41% of those polled believe climate change is happening and that it is man-made. However, a third of those polled were not convinced that it is the result of human behaviour and further 15% don’t accept it has been happening at all. I think 41% is a reasonable proportion but it is hard to escape the conclusion that Iain Dale reaches; that people are simply not convinced.

The Times leader rather unwisely dismisses the sceptics as ‘global village idiots’ however, it would seem axiomatic to me looking around that the presence of man and things like huge, gasping cities would have some effect on the surrounding environment and to say it wouldn’t is slightly unrealistic. Furthermore, the leader rightly points to the overwhelming evidence;

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was written by 152 scientists from more than 30 countries and reviewed by more than 600 experts. It concluded that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is due to the observed increase in man-made greenhouse gas concentration. Concentrations of CO2 have increased by more than 35 per cent since industrialisation began, and they are now at their highest for at least 800,000 years.

None of the main political parties have made the issue their own the leader says and this is the reason why people are not convinced. However, this is a bit disingenuous when it is hard for any political party to convey such sophisticated information  in a sound-bite culture and it also assumes people are willing to digest it. People are unlikely to want to be told they can no longer consume as they have; they can’t enjoy the freedom offered them by a car etc and politicians know this so they soft-soap the message. Something that is as much down to them as it is the culture of the voters they are talking too; people don’t like to be told bad things. Denial then becomes a defence mechanism.

What will make them less likely to want to digest this message is the lack of viable alternatives. So, with the car example, people won’t like being told they can no longer have it, or have to pay more for it when the alternative is spending large amounts of time in a cramped and unreliable bus. If politicians are to get the message across then they have to have something positive to offer alongside warnings about the potentially dire consequences of climate change.

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About darrellgoodliffe

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7 responses to “Why are people not convinced by climate change?”

  1. Amber Collins says :

    This is, in my opinion, a very hard subject to get behind 100% on either side. Yes, climate change could be man made. However, we don’t know what the cycles of the earth were like billions of years ago. This may just be part of the cycle, not man induced.

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  2. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Amber,

    But one doesn’t preclude another; I think it would be rather burying our heads in the sand to say that we have no effect whatsoever and the fact is that the effect we do have needs to be limited and since it’s something we have done it’s also something we can actively limit.

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  3. Nonconformistradical says :

    “However, we don’t know what the cycles of the earth were like billions of years ago. This may just be part of the cycle, not man induced.”

    There is a lot of evidence for past climate change in the geological record and clearly if it was occurring before the evolution of humans then humans can hardly be blamed for it.

    Factors implicated in past climate change include:-

    The variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun (Milankovich cycles) – these operate on cycles of roughly around 100000, 40000 and 21000 years and affect the amount of solar radiation received at different latitudes

    The positions of the continents can have major effects on ocean current systems e.g. the formation of the Panamanian Isthmus linking North and South America – these changes operate over cycles lasting hundreds of millions of years

    Carbon dioxide levels e.g. during the Cretaceous they were several times present levels, likely resulting from extensive volcanic activity. During this period extensive deposits of coal (which requires warm wet conditions for its formation) were formed in Arctic areas which can be shown through paleomagnetic studies to have been at roughly similar latitudes then as they are now. Volcanism on the scale of that which occurred during the Cretaceous is likely to occur at intervals of 10s to 100s of million years – and it certainly isn’t happening now.

    So climate change does occur without human intervention but the major factors influencing it are on timescales totally out of line with the human lifespan.

    There are also climate changes operating on much shorter timescales e.g. El Nino/La Nina cycles – say roughly 10-year cycles.

    The problem we seem to have is the apparently widely held perception that climate change can only have one basic cause – i..e either it is caused entirely by humans or it isn’t caused by humans at all.

    The speed at which carbon dioxide levels have increased since the start of the industrial revolution suggest additional climate change superimposed on the long-term natural cycles and with a trend of increasing carbon dioxide levels which doesn’t fit with the short term El Nino tyoe cycles either. The correlation with the industrial revolution does suggest human involvement.

    However I’m coming to the conclusion that much more effort needs to go into coping with climate change as opposed to trying to prevent it. I’d be astonished if a viable agreement emerges at Copenhagen and even more astonished if one did emerge and was actually implemented.

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  4. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Nonconformistradical,

    Thanks for that comment. Very informative. I think it is a good point about part of the problem being that there can only be one cause and this points to the problem being that it is part of an ideological structure almost.

    I agree; I find it baffling at a logical level that people cannot recognise that human involvement is almost common-sensical.

    You maybe right. I am not sure to be honest. Is not part of coping minimising the impact? So would I which, sadly, says alot….

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  5. Liberal Eye says :

    One reason many people are not convinced that climate change is entirely (or even mainly) man-made is that the frequent claim that ‘the science is settled’ is simply not true. It is strongly disputed by many eminent climate scientists, statisticians and the like.

    At almost every turn there are problems with the IPCC orthodoxy. For instance the US climate records, which are an important input, are flaky to say the least.

    http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/surfacestationsreport_spring09.pdf

    Moreover, some of the work on which the IPCC has relied is highly suspect. Some key papers are are so little supported by publically available data sets or methods as to leave them open to suspicion of being fraudulent.

    All this does not mean that climate change is not a potential problem. It is but it’s so difficult we don’t yet have a good handle on it yet and won’t for many, many years.

    However, I am pretty sure that framing it as a slow death by heat is entirely wrong way to approach it. It might go that way but we might equally be hit for six by a mega-eruption large enough to trigger another year-without-a-summer like 1816 – climate change of a perhaps temporary sort but sudden, unpredictable and, given low global food stocks, fatal for many (including in this country).

    I would rather we framed our response as part of a wider environmental agenda devoted to learning to ‘walk lightly on the Earth’. This would certainly involve reducing emissions but also addressing (for instance) gross overfishing, pollution of land and sea by plastics and, in general, living well within the capacity of the planet to sustain even if the climate takes a big turn for the worse.

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  6. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Liberal,

    Thanks for that; would you agree then that part of the problem with the debate is it is put forward as unchallengeable orthodoxy and people react against that?

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  7. Liberal Eye says :

    Campaigners (and politicians) who present it as unchallengeable orthodoxy certainly do their cause no favours in the long run because truth – which in this context means the complicated and uncertain science – has a way of coming out eventually.

    The ‘you are either with us or against us’ view can then drive people to adopt either a ‘denialist’ position or become ‘warmists’ who pay as little attention to the science as creationists.

    We need real political leadership to steer between the extremes and hold the ring for a rational approach.

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