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A couple of weeks ago I overheard someone say to a friend "I used to believe in [climate change], but now I don't. Not since reading Superfreakonomics. It's my bible. Is that worrying?", to which I silently screamed "yes".

A couple of weeks ago I overheard someone say to a friend "I used to believe in [climate change], but now I don't. Not since reading Superfreakonomics. It's my bible. Is that worrying?", to which I silently screamed "yes".

A lot of people are saying that we're "losing" the battle of hearts and minds on climate change. Frustratingly silly mistakes from the IPCC that make a mockery of their reportedly rigorous process, the Climategate fracas from the University of East Anglia, the naff result that was Copenhagen and the failure of the government to find a compelling and aspirational story to explain climate change are all factors that spring to my mind. Coupled of course with the effect of the cold weather as a couple (that one's great) of our representatives demonstrated.

This poll for the BBC, for example, shows a rise of 10% in agreement with the statement "Climate change is not happening" between November 2009 and December 2010. People's views can rapidly change on issues (especially when polled on global warming during a cold snap), but it looks like the BBC's poll is consistent with longer term views.

As part of their survey into public attitudes towards climate change, Defra poll people on their response to five questions which reflect different positions on the New Ecological Paradigm scale:

  1. "Climate change is beyond control – it's too late to do anything about it"
  2. "If things continue on their current course, we will soon experience a major environmental disaster"
  3. "We are close to the limit of the number of people the earth can support"
  4. "The so-called 'environmental crisis' facing humanity has been greatly exaggerated"
  5. "The Earth has very limited room and resources"
Here's what people said at the beginning and end of a two year period. The text is a bit small, but you can click for a bigger view. The columns are grouped in five pairs - the first of each pair shows people's response in 2007 and the second in 2009.

Ecological Worldview

Ecological Worldview

The overall message of this research seems to be that people aren't throwing a belief in climate change completely out of the window. There was a change of only 3% towards disagreeing with the statement "The so-called 'environmental crisis' facing humanity has been greatly exaggerated".

Rather people are gradually moderating their views on climate change, with the biggest changes being a 9% shift away from the defeatist view "Climate change is beyond control – it's too late to do anything about it" and 6% move away from the statement "If things continue on their current course, we will soon experience a major environmental disaster".

So what would be the right response to this change towards more moderate attitudes towards climate change? I guess the obvious one is to resist the temptation to commission more apocalyptic campaigns and commercials that will increasingly become laughed at or complained about and fail to find a foothold in people's views.

However there is a more fundamental point to be made. There's a rapidly growing amount of theory in the public sector around social marketing (and behavioural economics etc.) - but (speaking from the outside) all this knowledge doesn't seem to be breaking into the planning of communications. The UK's government has been good at creative comms in the past (e.g. Lord Woolton's knack for PR) but we don't seem to be doing very well with climate change. It's superfrustrating.

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