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Public opinion on climate change – the public might be the problem

Posted on 2 November 2009 | 11:11am

It is one of the golden rules of democratic politics that you are never allowed to turn towards the public and tell them they are the problem. Like many golden rules, from time to time it deserves to be broken.

Because when you read a survey which states that only 15 per cent of British people worry about global warming and its potential impact on the world, you ask yourself ‘do I really live in a country where, when people are asked if they worry about global warming and its potential impact on the world, more than eight out of ten say “No.”‘?

The figures for developing countries like Brazil, Mexico and India are much higher. Is that because they are more used to weather driven destruction? Or because they have not fallen victim to the ‘not bovvered’ syndrome which says instant gratification belongs to the individual and any long-term problem belongs to somebody else.

Of course politicians have to take a lead, and will be expected to come to a meaningful agreement at the Copenhagen Summit next month. But if they go with such low levels of interest and awareness back home – and the numbers have fallen from 26 per cent since the recession began, making Britain the ‘least concerned’ country of twelve surveyed for the Climate Confidence monitor – then their task becomes much harder.

Britain also topped the poll on the question as to whether they thought anything could be done. Almost half said no, against a global average of 38 per cent. ‘Not bovvered’ plus ‘nothing can be done.’ A lethal ‘public opinion’ combination. Meanwhile, Save the Children reckon climate change could take the lives of 250,000 kids next year, as a result of drought, floods, malaria, starvation caused by natural disasters leading to economic collapse. Not bovvered? Nothing to be done?

I wonder what a poll asking whether people really really cared who won X Factor would show? A lot more than 15 per cent I fancy.

  • catherine

    Maybe next year Children in Need, Comic Relief etc need to focus on how climate change is already affecting the developing world. Get the personal stories into people’s living rooms to compete with the x-factor.

  • Helen Sharples

    But people ARE changing their habits, just too slowly. ANd people are frightened by the scale of it, so they think what difference does me not taking my car to the supermarket make when the Chinese are building a new power station every day? Maybe it is just too big for people to take in

  • Colin Mendy

    People don’t really care about X Factor. They just think they do. It is a substitute for meaningful activity, and those who get involved in meaningful activity – like the charity you mention – are dismissed as dogooders.

  • Barbara George

    I care more about global warming than who wins X Factor. But I feel very limited in what I can do wheras watching X Factor I feel I can express a view and see almost immediately if I have had an effect. Maybe you are right about instant gratification

  • Zelo Street

    It doesn’t help matters when you have a number of folks on the right and/or libertarian part of the blogosphere who either deny the existence of climate change, or refuse to acknowledge that any of it is man made.

    One example is the eccentric Tory MP Douglas Carswell, pal of Europhobe and NHS denouncer Dan, Dan the Oratory Man. Doug gives the impression that the BBC is waging some kind of campaign of indoctrination on the subject. His pal Hanann appears well regarded by Young Dave.

    But you’ll be pleased to know that the Tories have sent word out into their part of the blogosphere that a Lisbon referendum is off. Tim Montgomerie at ConHome has obediently fallen into line, as has Iain Dale. Not that the Tories are control freaks. Oh no.

  • powwownow_green

    If the public was correctly represented yes. The survey says 15% worry about global warming, which does not necessarily mean that 85% do not care at all, which is the way one might take this, if one wanted a sensationalist angle for a blog, say… 🙂 But I concede that public lethargy is a problem, and this is the same the world over. If you are one of the people with the energy to push this important cause, credit to you (and your blog…)

  • Tim

    I do not care about global warming in the least. I am also one of those who is not absolutely sold on the science.

    I have no off spring, I do not believe in a higher being and have absolutely no interest in what happens to the world when I die.

    Perhaps those with children, who believe in love and karma and think they will be remembered for ever find that to be selfish. If they felt so strongly they would change their habits and leave those of us in a different position to get on with our lives.

    Until those who actually have a vested interest in the gene pool continuing, actually get round to changing their habits, don’t expect the rest of the world to change on their behalf.

    Just because a politician says something is a problem, doesn’t make it necessarily true.

  • audrey wilson

    Aren’t we forgetting that it’s the governments in all countries of the western world who are responsible for climate change through industrialisation, greed and policy. Life really is quite simple. It’s the powers that be that make it hard.

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    It’s hard to say which is the greater threat to mankind…climate change or the Grimes twins.

  • Hazico

    I agree the public are generally highly apathetic it seems.Perhaps huge numbers believe what they read in the Sun or Mail!!
    Perhaps we have all become couch potatoes, and believe all we read in the media, whilst simultaneously tuning into a fantasy world of soap operas and reality TV.
    How can these messages be communicated to the public in a clear and simple way?
    There is also a lot of “counter” propoganda, which many bloggers on our local press have accepted as factual.

  • Judith Haire

    The electricity bill for each X Factor show must be huge.

  • Deborah Segalini

    The public are the problem on the classification of drugs, too, but Alan Johnson saw fit to sack the adviser who dared to, er, advise!

    When are we going to start to lead again, rather than pander to the Daily Mail?

    I’m close to resigning my membership, despite the commitments I have to help in the local elections next may.

  • Deborah Segalini


    go to the 10/10 website to find out how much you can do yourself. It would surprise you, I’m sure.

  • Em

    I worry about water being a problem within my life time and I live five minutes away from Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes, you know, the ones that are bigger than France? With the scarcity of natural resources and denser populations, Europe will feel the pinch much sooner.

    Not to come across as holier than thou but we’ve been legally obligated to recycle our organics for about ten years now. As I understand it, such measures are only at the discussion level in the UK. What are you guys waiting for?

    Meanwhile, X Factor is everywhere on Twitter, Facebook and UK media outlets. Not that we’re much better here, it’s just that our entertainment obsessions are more diversified and not so Simon Cowell centric. Entertaining ourselves to death…

    There is a psychological component to this as well. This is a huge, unphatomable problem. “An Inconvenient Truth” didn’t make me feel inspired; it made me want to hide under a blanket. Of course, thanks to Gore my next car won’t be a beamer but some kind of hybrid or electric ugly thing. There goes my cool factor. Thank you very much, Al.

  • Simon Gittins

    Perhaps there would be less apathy and more concern if the government had handled things better.
    Most believe it is just another way of introducing more stealth taxes and with this governments record the public have every right to have a high level of scepticism.

  • Salmondnet

    Yep. That’s the trouble with democracy. People don’t always agree with or have the same priorities as their political class. When they don’t, the people must be overuled (for their own good, of course).

    At the end of the second world war Hitler famously complained that the German people had failed him (you may think it was the other way round, I couldn’t possibly comment). All leaders, however benign their policies, seem, secretly or openly, to share his this mind set.

  • George Woodhouse

    Bloody electorate – don’t they know what is good for them. You politicos ought to consider why we dont believe a word you say, and why we think everything they do is based on their own self interest

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire


    Mr Alastair Campbell: Your Royal Highness, Mr President and most eligible England Cricket Captain, harshly overlooked by the Test selectors, sir …

    Just flipped from the “debate” still raging among your FaceBook Friends – My God, it’s gone 2am, Tuesday morning, and the little devils are STILL at each other’s throats, unbelievable

    Tell us, please. Who ARE these “friends” of yours? New Labour supporters, perhaps? Possibly, some are. Others, I guess not. Tories, then, up to mischief – that wouldn’t surprise me. And hardly the first time, either

    Problem is, all the ranting and raving all the day long might be putting persecuted minorities off participation

    I’m thinking in particular of the friends you have, who can actually spell, for example, who can parse any sentence grammatically

    But these may also, for fear of reprisal, the torrential abuse they’re likely to receive in return, should they so much as condescend to lift their World War One “pith-helmets” above the parapet, to mumble a few comments, however well-reasoned their argument

    Whilst it’s easier to gain entry to Fort Knox than it is to get me to accept or send out a FaceBook Friend request, and surely that approach too, has its DISadvantages and drawbacks, a Labour MP informed me that FaceBook holds to a 5,000 friends upper-limit capacity, leaving the gentleman with a backlog of over 400 friendship requests – worse still, some of these from his own constituents, who can’t even find out what’s going on, because he’s reached FaceBook’s presumably arbitrary policy of “5,000 Friends? That’s ya limit, friend”

    Even, bearing in mind, it’s a Labour MP complaining, and therefore, he may wield enough clout to circumvent the rules that govern the rest of us, or even be “making them up” to compile a shock/horror press release. We shall see

    Nevertheless, there might still be a claim for establishing a “Quality, as opposed to Quantity” policy on your own FaceBook

    Pompous? Yes, of course, silly. Arrogant, too, if you like

    But some of the comments and “debate” indulged in all day by friends on FaceBook suggest the need for a Moderator post may soon be in the offing, or so some of us will hope

    The free-for-all bun-fights at present remind me of the old adage ” … wouldn’t touch ’em with a ten foot barge-pole …” and as I’m convinced the feeling is mutual, ie, the perpetrators bunch loathe what they regard as the servile, flattering parasite-sycophantics, Labour lot equally, perhaps, both clumps of us have much to gain from a tightening of the reins, as well as some “no abuse” rules

    In which case, you are quite right, sir, to point out in your blog (see first paragraph, 2 November, opposite) at appropriate times, even the most golden rules warrant breaking. Quite. Then, what about turning towards some “friends” on FaceBook, who feel famed for repeatedly causing trouble there (my albeit inadequate experience suggests it could be the same names daily), why not tell those few to b*gger off elsewhere?

    At least, that’d cleanse this bit of the planet – cyberspace – for starters

    Trevor Malcolm
    Portsmouth, Hampshire



  • Michael

    ‘When the government and the poeple disagree, it is time to change the people’. I don’t worry about global warming – I’ve read recently that temparatures are falling and the polar bear population has increased. I visit Catalunya each year and have hotter summers there ten years agao than recently. We were led to believe Aids would be a bigger problem than it is and the millennium bug was a giant hoax. When I saw Pete Postlethwaite and his cronies tearing a strip off Ed Milliband at a screening for the Age of Stupid, my contempt for these people sunk even further. Many warmenists like to promote fear and hate (while enjoying fist class travel around the globe to publicise their cause) – it’s a turn off and you shouldn’t blame the rest of us for being sceptical.

  • chris capps

    Alistair you and your ilk just don’t getit.As others have said the reason why noone cares is that no one believes a word that we are told by you kings of spin. I remember the coming of the ice age,aids was going to kill the entire nation,every year another deadly flu outbreak then of course the blatent lies WMD in Iraq,treaties on EU membership,etc the list is endless. As you and your good friends in the labour party seem to have missed, the population of the UK is more concerned about saving this great country at the moment rather than the world.
    So fact as yet there is no clear scientific evidence.But to have a real economic debate on the reduction in use of carbon fuels would actually be more truthful and would gain more response. To keep on with this decietful mantra of climate/global warming instead of a truthful debate about future sustainability of the ever increasing population of the world and reduction of natural resource is completely misleading.

  • Brian Carpenter

    Did someone just imply that Aids isn’t a big problem? The comments get stranger by the day…