Climate Change: Why We Don't Believe It; What Does Britain Really Think about Global Warming? Lois Rogers Reveals an Unreported Gulf between the Pronouncements of Campaigners and Politicians and the Reality of British Public Opinion

By Rogers, Lois | New Statesman (1996), April 23, 2007 | Go to article overview

Climate Change: Why We Don't Believe It; What Does Britain Really Think about Global Warming? Lois Rogers Reveals an Unreported Gulf between the Pronouncements of Campaigners and Politicians and the Reality of British Public Opinion


Rogers, Lois, New Statesman (1996)


Global warming is a threat that is going to wipe out civilisation as we know it. The liberal elite and political classes are signed up to the message that, unless we take urgent action within ten years, we are all literally doomed to burn up.

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But who else believes them?

Beyond the corridors of Westminster and the offices of environmental pressure groups, where global warming and sustainability are buzzwords of the moment, British consumers continue flying, driving and buying with unchecked enthusiasm. The gulf between the pronouncements of our politicians and what the majority of people think and do, could scarcely be wider.

A survey by the polling organisation MORI, published at the end of last year but unreported by the mainstream media, found that about a third of the population--32 per cent--still knows little or nothing about the threat of climate change. Of those who had heard of it, half thought it was at least partly a natural process, and only 11 per cent of those questioned thought it was up to individuals to change their behaviour. MORI's head of research, John Leaman, acknowledges that the battle for public opinion is not only not won, it has not even seriously begun: "The question of how you persuade people that it is to do with them is a very interesting one," he said. "We need to know whether people's attitudes are the consequence of ignorance, disbelief or personal self-interest and inertia. Even among those who do know about climate change, there is a yawning gap between what people say and what they do. I don't think there is any simple answer." As an organisation, MORI is keen to be seen taking this problem seriously. It is planning its own forum in June, to contribute ideas for ways to promote awareness and behaviour change. (Ironically, the identified key speaker appeared to be away on a foreign holiday and could not be contacted for comment.)

How then are our leaders going to engage our hearts and minds in the green debate? What will be the tipping point that will lead people not just into giving the fashionable answers in opinion polls, but to actually change their behaviour?

At the moment we are mired in a bog of confusing messages. In a portentous speech to the Green Alliance last month, the Chancellor Gordon Brown talked about the need for "new global partnerships and multilateral networks" to tackle the environmental challenge. The recent climate change review by the economist Sir Nicholas Stern predicted hundreds of millions of "climate refugees" streaming across the world in an effort to escape from drought, flood and famine.

Yet opinion polls for the BBC and others indicate that the reaction of people hearing these pronouncements is that they are simply relieved to hear the problem is nothing to do with them. An ICM poll last month found about half the people questioned in some parts of the country were quite clear about their unwillingness to change their lifestyle at all. Elsewhere, there is growing scepticism that any of it is true, and the dissenting voices are getting louder. A recent editorial in the Daily Mail told millions of readers that it is pointless to alter drastically the way we live simply on the "vague possibility of an ecological disaster".

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In March, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle, which notoriously ridiculed the whole basis of climate change. The programme was furiously condemned by leading scientists as misleading and badly researched. Yet Channel 4 reported that it drew more than 700 comments from viewers, with those supporting its sceptical line outnumbering critics by six to one. "People appreciated the fact that the questioning approach was being given air time," said a Channel 4 spokesman. "We are planning a discussion programme on the whole issue for June. The best time to have a debate is generally when people say there is no further need for one. …

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