12 June 2012

The Voice of the People: An Echo

I have a guest post up at the Lowy Interpreter on the results of the latest Lowy Poll of public opinion in Australia. I was asked to discuss the poll results related to climate change.  Here is an excerpt:
The 2012 Lowy Poll shows that only 36% of those surveyed agreed with the statement that 'Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.' Back in 2006, one year before Kevin Rudd elevated the climate issue to national and international prominence, 68% of those surveyed agreed with that same statement, almost twice as many.

But have Australians really gone cold on climate change? The 2012 Lowy Poll shows that 55% surveyed say that their concern about climate change is unchanged since debate on the issue began in Australia, while 38% report being more concerned. Only 7% express a decrease in concern.

How can we reconcile these apparently contradictory positions?
For the answer, please head over to the Lowy Interpreter for the whole post, and please feel free to come back here and comment or ask questions.


  1. Any one who sells things know that you don't really know what a person thinks about the value of something until they have a price. It's very easy to support an abstract concept where the effort to resolve the issues involve minor changes of habit. It's quite another when the resolution scheme involves giving up a significant portion of your earnings for a benefit that is at best abstract in a personal sense. You suggest that loss of support for climate action is tied to the loss in support for the ALP. I tend to agree but I think it's clearly the former driving the latter due to an all pain and no gain, go it alone "solution".

  2. Very interesting post.

    Hasn't support for action on Climate Change dropped internationally as well though?

    The GFC, the failure of Copenhagen and the change in the way the public regards Climate Scientists from Honest Brokers to Issue Advocates have probably all contributed to the change in attitudes.

    To an extent the idea of how much is politics and how much is a bigger change in attitudes will be testable. If when, as is very likely, the ALP is removed from office if concern over climate change continues to be low then it will be more than just support for one political party.

    Still, on the money question that you ask in your talks about how much people are prepared to pay I thought things had not changed much. Most people are prepared to pay ~$200 for action on Climate Change.

  3. People change political and social positions quite slowly on the whole. They can move a long way on a spectrum in increments. Often they don't even know they are doing it.

    Road to Damascus conversions are the exception, not the rule.

    So people can quite happily think that they feel the same way they always did, yet have an entirely different view. It doesn't need to be reconciled.

    As Sean points out, they are also unreliable without a cost associated.

    For example people of my parents' generation will often now pretend to be tolerant of homosexuality. They will also swear that they always were, and at the same time will not be as tolerant as they say they are. They aren't lying. They just have to reconcile the difficulty of changing firmly held moral views without any apparent loss of face.

  4. It's all about money; no need to invoke anything else.

    People will happily sign up to doing anything at all to tackle climate change as long as it doesn't cost them significant amounts of money (roughly speaking, above $200/year).

    The only surprising thing is that they found so much support for "We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs."

  5. "The graph shows that public support for action on climate change has fallen in step with the loss of support for the ALP generally. "

    Well, maybe. The Lowry poll has actually fallen 50% more than support for ALP. And what if you extend the graph back to 2006, when the Lowry poll was at a high of 68%? I'm not convinced the claimed correlation is even there, much less significant.

    I agree with the other posters. People will claim they haven't changed even when they have. And the real test of what people value is not in self-reporting but in whether people are willing to pay to accomplish it. I would say that people often don't even know what they value or why, even when they think they do.

  6. -5-Brian

    Thanks ... the graph starts in 2008 because that is when the ALP took over leadership.

    There is clearly a correlation, the more difficult question is causality, which as I suggest runs in multiple directions.

    I agree with you on willingness to pay, and one does not need opinion polls to discern that!


  7. This is why scientist advocates of climate change action want to attribute current extreme weather events to AGW. Interest is bound to flag if nothing happens. If arctic ice extent starts to build again, as it might, the whole thing is dead in the water.

  8. Nice to see the critical point made by commmenters here: money talks, BS walks. Surveys aren't worth the paper (or pixels) they're printed on. The American people are in favor of apple pie, but not at $1000 ea. No doubt Australians are the same.

    If you took the consensus-based requirement into account - a virtual immediate shut-down of the carbon economy - and put that on a ballot, it would lose in an epic landslide. Put properly, the AGW advocate's base position is a non-starter. I'm not talking about what they think they can get away with politically. I'm talking about what they say 'the science' demands. Which is exactly why the international conferences have all failed since Kyoto. Even the politicians who give lip service to the true believers know that their demands are absurd.

  9. Maybe it is that people who have always been somewhat skeptical now feel more free to express that sentiment out loud.

    Rather than an echo of party politics as the author of the article infers, it may be that the coercive power of political correctness is waning as the broader leftist model continues to fail on several fronts.

  10. The way it goes, at least in Australia, is "Lets all pretend that it is proven that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are causing dangerous climate change. And lets all pretend that charging a carbon tax will fix it."

    Its a bit like the Russian workers (in the days of the collapsing Soviet Union) who said "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us!"

  11. Perhaps the Australians are also becoming aware of the irony of their carbon tax: while they commit themselves to tiny emission cuts (in global terms), they plan to export billions of additional tons of coal to Asia.

    To put things in perspective, the Galilee coal basin which will be opened by the railroad, contains over 50 times more CO2 than Australia's annual total emissions. Realpolitik in action.....