Sunday 15 November 2009

Despite the lies of the Times, majority believe climate change is man made.

Yesterday, the The Times online published results of a poll that demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of the British public believe that climate change is man made (anthropogenic). Bizarrely, they chose to mis-represent ("spin") the results with the headline Global warming is not our fault, say most voters in Times poll.

First, I'll fess up. My headline is also spin. The poll didn't ask people if they believe in anthropogenic climate change. It asked if
Climate change is happening . . .
... and is now established as largely man-made 41%
... but not yet proven to be largely man-made 32%
... but it is not environmentalist propaganda that is man-made [sic - I presume this wasn't the question that they really asked] 8%
... Climate change is not happening 15%

But, if my headline is spin, theirs is a downright lie, and here's why:

In their report, they used the phrase "established as a scientific fact". But, what they didn't ask is "what do you believe". So, lets take a look at the more detailed report [pdf], and see what people really said.

First, 83% agreed that climate change is happening ("Earth's climate is changing and climate change taking place?" [sic]). Only 2% had no view.

Second, 80% (96% of 83%) agree that climate change is a serious problem. Now, at this point, the question should not be "Who's fault is it?", but "What can we do about it?". However, I'll grant that the answer to the first question has some bearing on the latter. If it's our fault (in a causal rather than moral sense), then maybe we can tackle the problem by stopping doing the wrong thing. If it's not our fault, then we have to start doing something new. Either way, if 80% of people agree that it's a serious problem, then surely that should be the support that the UK government requires in December.

The Times goes on to say "The high level of scepticism underlines the difficulty the Government will have in persuading the public to accept higher green taxes". But that's also rubbish, as their survey demonstrates. Most people (over 50%) surveyed were in favour of higher taxes to combat climate change: specifically with respect to air travel (57%) and gas guzzlers (68%). Oh, and 87% are in favour of stricter building regulations - something that I'm sure the Times would be happy to describe as a "stealth tax", if (a) they'd thought of it, and (b) it weren't so popular!

And this is where we come to the lie. Remember, they said that most people thing Global Warming is not our fault. Presumably, in "most" they're including all those who say it is "not yet proven", but are these really people who say it's definitely "not our fault"? They can't be - not if they also think that taxing air travel or gas guzzlers is going to help. At best, you can characterise this group as "undecided", but my bet is that it consists of some "believers", some "disbelievers" and all the "undecideds". Frankly, it's a poor question.

Note, the poll shows that support for climate taxes is increasing - though the Times shows it's innumeracy here by somehow claiming that more people oppose increasing the cost of motoring, despite showing that men and women are separately less likely to oppose this measure. As are all age groups, and supporters of all parties (assuming "p8" is a typo for "-8").

This bears repeating: the Times are claiming that most people think that climate change is not caused by humans, while at the same time reporting that most people are happy to see new taxes to stop humans causing climate change!