Public Belief in Climate Change Dips in Wake of Scientific Data Storm and Feeble Summit; MAJOR PROPORTION THINK THAT THERE HAS BEEN NO DIFFERENCE
Byline: ALED BLAKE
CLIMATE change scepticism is on the rise as people grow suspicious of scientists' forecasts and motives, Welsh researchers have found.
In a major study published today, the team of Cardiff University academics discovered that 22% of the population either did not know or did not believe the world's climate is changing.
Five years ago, that figure stood at just 9%. The findings pose a problem for environmentalists wanting to hit home the message that climate change poses a catastrophic risk to the future of the planet.
While 78% of people across the UK consider the world's climate is changing, that compares starkly to the data in 2005, when 91% of people believed in the theory.
It follows a colder-than-average winter, rows over the veracity of climate science and the high-profile controversy over leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, an issue that was very publicly seized upon by climate change sceptics.
And in a further embarrassing slip, the international scientific body which produces reviews on global warming - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - was forced to apologise for mistakes exposed in its most recent report published in 2007.
The survey was conducted in the wake of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen last December, which delivered only a weak non-binding accord on cutting emissions and were widely judged to have been a failure.
Professor Nick Pidgeon, of Cardiff University's School of Psychology, who led the research team, admitted recent coverage of the issue had affected people's thinking.
He said: "The country is faced with a range of critical decisions on both climate change and energy production and use which will affect us all.
"Whether new nuclear power, major wind farms, or encouraging people to conserve energy, we need to understand how public attitudes will impact on decisions."
The research reveals there is also a large proportion of the population who believe that the dangers of climate change are over-hyped by scientists -with 40% of people believing its impact is exaggerated.
And it found nuclear power had become slightly more acceptable to the public - in particular as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But there was still "no ringing endorsement" for the power source, Prof Pidgeon said.
He suggested the fall in belief in climate change may have long-term roots as well as being influenced by recent events.
He said that people had a "finite pool of worry", and that in the face of the economic crisis the public was more focused on financial concerns.
He added: "In the long term people may have become a bit bored with climate change in the media and elsewhere.
"The short-term effects are more obvious, the e-mails, the IPCC, and also the fact we had a very cold winter, and people think 'where is global warming when we're sitting here in 3ft of snow?'."
But he said that, of those people who said they had noticed signs of climate change during their lifetimes, many pointed to changes to the weather and seasons, and a cold winter may not necessarily have influenced them against a belief in climate change.
He also suggested that the "emailgate" affair may have backed up people's entrenched attitudes about global warming, with those who did not believe in climate change interpreting it as evidence they were right and those who accepted it was happening seeing it as an attempt to undermine climate science.
"Nobody should be complacent. It was a large and serious challenge to some aspects of British climate science. …