75 per cent of people believe it’s wrong to say human activity is not significantly affecting the climate – and most believe the benefits of tackling climate change outweigh the risks, according to new polling. We take a look at what the new data says about UK attitudes to climate change.
Humans are the main cause of climate change
Data from Ipsos Mori’s Public Attitudes to Science 2014 collected data from 1,740 adults UK-wide aged over 16 and a booster survey of 510 16-24-year-olds. It shows only 14 per cent of people think human activity does not have a significant effect on the climate. In contrast, three quarters of respondents say they disagree with that statement. This attitude appears to have changed little since the survey was last conducted in 2011.
The results raise interesting questions about how we ask people what they think about climate change.
When asked directly whether climate change is caused by humans, the answers appear to be different. In polling last August, Carbon Brief asked which statement they agreed with most: ‘climate change is happening and is mostly caused by humans’, ‘climate change is happening and is mostly caused by natural processes’, and ‘climate change is not happening’.
Only seven per cent said climate change is not happening but a lower percentage said it is mostly caused by humans: 56 per cent. 37 per cent said they think climate change is happening, but that it’s mostly caused by natural processes.
High support for action to tackle climate change
This year, the polling also asked respondents to take a risk-based approach to assessing the benefits of tackling climate change.
Out of the 1,033 people who had heard about efforts to tackle climate change, 59 per cent of all adults and 63 per cent of 16-24 year olds said they believe the benefits outweigh the risks.
This finding tallies with Carbon Brief’s own result – despite a wider discrepancy between the number of people who say humans are affecting climate change. 67 per cent still said they believe climate change could be a serious problem and that we need to act now to prevent it happening in the future.
It’s worth noting, however, that 707 of the people Ipsos surveyed had not heard about climate policy efforts. It’s a figure that climate policymakers and communicators should take note of: it could be seen to reinforce the conclusions of polling that finds people’s concern about environmental issues is falling.
Younger people more confident in their knowledge of climate science
Ipsos Mori’s booster survey of 16-24-year-olds reveals some interesting differences between younger and older peoples’ confidence in their level of knowledge about climate change.
17 per cent of all adults say they feel “very well informed” about climate change, rising to 27 per cent among 16-24-year-olds. 61 per cent of all respondents said they feel “fairly well informed”. That’s a slight rise from 2011 when 59 per cent said they were fairly well informed.
Trust in scientists is high – especially if they work for universities
At a time when trust in society and institutions is low, scientists have reason to feel pretty good – especially if they work for universities. It turns out trust in university scientists is actually growing: 90 per cent of adults trust university scientists a great deal or a fair amount to follow the rules and regulations that apply to their profession – a figure that’s gone up fairly significantly since 2011 when it stood at 84 per cent.
Appearances of independence seem to be important – though that seems to depend very much on who the scientists work for. Government scientists are slightly less trusted – around 72 per cent among adults this year – than those working for charities (88 per cent) and environmental groups (79 per cent). Trust among adults lowers to 60 per cent when it comes to scientists working for private companies.
Ipsos Mori’s poll deals with trust in scientists’ commitment to their ethical obligations, but other polling indicates people trust what climate scientists say, too. According to polling conducted by Carbon Brief last year, 69 per cent of those asked agreed scientists and meteorologists are trustworthy sources of accurate information about climate science. Only seven per cent disagreed that scientists could be trusted to do this.
The polling also showed 76 per cent of all adults and 85 per cent of 16-24-year-olds who had heard of the technology support the development of offshore windfarms. 51 per cent of all adults and 47 per cent of 16-24s who had heard of it support carbon capture and storage and 36 per cent of all adults and 42 per cent of 16-24s who had heard of fracking for natural gas support its development.