Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Climate change: "only one Briton in nine realises the strength of the scientific consensus"

Perceptions about climate change - whatever the science - are important of course:
Futures Forum: Climate change: the language of framing... "Climate change hysteria is really a feeling."
Futures Forum: Climate change: the language of framing... "Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change"

It is a matter of 'narrative':
Futures Forum: Rob Nixon: "How can we devise arresting stories that capture the pervasive but elusive effects of 'slow violence'? Climate change, deforestation, oil spills, acidifying oceans, and a host of other slowly unfolding environmental crises."

The press has considerable influence over these perceptions:
Futures Forum: "Climate science has been dragged into the American-style culture wars that are turning British intellectual life into a battlefield."
Futures Forum: The continuing politicisation of the climate change debate
Futures Forum: The national press and the IPCC report... and Climate Change
Futures Forum: Climate Change: "It appears the more carbon we emit, the less we want to believe we’re contributing to the problem."
Futures Forum: Climate Change: the film

A new report out shows more people are convinced:

Plymouth's winter storms convinced people that climate change is real

By Plymouth Herald | Posted: August 27, 2014

Comments (3)

More than a quarter of people say the winter floods that hit Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall this year strengthened their belief in man-made climate change, a survey has found.

Half the people polled for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said widespread flooding in early 2014 made them more convinced the climate was changing, and 27% said the floods had also increased their belief humans were the main cause.

Devon and Cornwall were among the areas of the country worst-hit by the flooding which left a record 7,000 properties swamped and about 49,000 hectares of agricultural land under water in just one week in February.

Huge areas of the region’s coastline were battered by storms and flood waters – causing millions of pounds of damage.

But the polling by ComRes of 2,021 people also revealed misconceptions about climate science, despite a majority of people claiming to be very or fairly well informed on climate change.

Only one in nine people (11%) said that almost all climate scientists believe that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, are mainly responsible for rising temperatures. More than two-fifths (43%) think that a majority of climate scientists believe in man-made climate change, but 35% think experts are split half and half on the issue, and 11% believe either a minority or almost none of the scientific community accept the theory.

The finding, which is contradicted by studies showing upwards of 90% of climate scientists believe humans are the main driver of global warming, has “uncomfortable echoes” of the MMR controversy 15 years ago, the ECIU said.

Overall, 57% of people thought that climate change was happening and was mainly caused by humans, while 28% thought the climate was changing but human activity was not mainly responsible. Just 4% denied climate change was happening and 11% did not know.

There are also misconceptions on how popular clean energy is in the UK.

Most people do not realise how high the support for renewable power sources such as wind farms and solar panels is, with just 5% estimating support from the British public as between 75% and 100%, and two thirds thinking it is below 50%. Research for the Government earlier this year found support for renewables was at 80%.

ECIU director Richard Black said: “This survey shows that there’s a huge gap between reality and perception on some key climate and energy issues. These are important findings given that the UK has crucial decisions to make on our response to climate change and our energy system in the next few years. As a nation we can only make sensible choices if we’re properly informed, so it’s vital that people are aware of what the evidence is and that it’s communicated clearly.”

And he said: “The breakdown between the views of scientists and the public on climate change is a particular concern. This feels reminiscent of the situation around MMR where most Britons thought the medical profession was split on the safety of the vaccine whereas doctors were virtually unanimous that it was safe.”

Katharine Peacock, managing director of ComRes, said: “The perceived lack of consensus among climate scientists is striking – particularly as scientists are one of the most trusted groups in society. As outliers of opinion are often memorable and debate among some groups remains, it is for the scientific community to communicate a strong evidence-based message to the media and through them to the public.”

The survey also found that 14% of those quizzed thought that “green” energy policies had pushed up energy bills a great deal, 37% thought they had increased bills somewhat and 34% said they had made no difference.

People do not seem to be buying the argument that fracking in the UK could bring down energy bills, with just over a quarter (27%) believing shale gas extraction could cut energy costs, while 46% thought it would make no difference and 16% said it would increase bills.

Experts at the Met Office have said there is “no definitive answer” on the contribution of climate change to the winter storms, but that studies suggest Atlantic storms and extreme rainfall are becoming more intense, and that the increase is consistent with a warming world.

The ECIU is a new initiative which aims to support informed debate on energy and climate issues in the UK.

Plymouth's winter storms convinced people that climate change is real | Plymouth Herald
Winter storms bolster belief in climate change, says survey | Western Morning News
UK’s winter floods strengthen belief humans causing climate change – poll | Environment | theguardian.com

Richard Black is director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (eciu.net) and a former BBC Science and Environment Correspondent writes in today's Western Morning News:

Tackle climate change issue before it is too hot to handle

By Western Morning News | Posted: September 08, 2014

Global warming may have slowed – but climate change has not, warns Richard Black.

Last week, the Western Morning News reported on a survey showing that the winter’s storms and floods had strengthened people’s belief in man-made climate change. The survey, commissioned by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, also found significant misconceptions among the public on some important questions.

The most striking finding concerns the consensus among climate scientists. At least 90% believe that climate change is real and is mainly caused by human activities, notably the burning of coal, oil and gas. The American Association for the Advancement of Science compares it with the consensus among doctors that smoking causes lung cancer: “A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause,” it says.

However, people have become a little more sceptical about man-made climate change. One reason may be that according to our survey, only one Briton in nine realises the strength of the scientific consensus. Another reason may lie in the argument that global warming “stopped” in 1998, which the Western Morning News also discussed last week.

This claim raises some important questions. How do we best measure “climate change” or “global warming”, and what is the relationship between those two things? If it has paused, why are climate scientists so certain that it is real?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body responsible for assessing climate science globally, concludes that warming continued after 1998, but about one-third as quickly as during the previous 30 years. So the “pause” or “stop” is probably a “slowdown”.

Another critically important point is that the slowdown applies to global warming, not to climate change overall.

The term “climate change” means far more than rising temperatures in the air around us. It means warming in the ocean, melting of ice on mountain glaciers and in the Arctic, rising sea levels, long-term changes in weather patterns, and much more.

None of these has slowed down. Sea level rise probably accelerated around the year 2000.

There’s more. The question “did global warming slow down in 1998?” is loaded. And 1998 was much warmer than the years around it. This was caused by the exceptionally strong El Nino event that year, which saw a huge patch of the Pacific Ocean transmit heat into the atmosphere like a giant radiator. If you begin your measurements in an unusually hot year, you increase the odds that the next few years will not be quite as hot.

Still, two big questions remain: what caused the “global warming slowdown”, and what does it mean for the future?

On the first question, the most plausible theory is that some of the extra heat has gone into the ocean. The ocean routinely absorbs at least 90% of the heat that greenhouse gases are trapping, whereas only 1% warms the atmosphere. So if the ocean absorbs just a little more, that can cancel out warming of the air.

There are natural cycles of warming and cooling in the Pacific Ocean that are in a cooling phase now. This effect appears to be nearly strong enough to cancel out warming of the air caused by greenhouse gases. The last appearance of this cooling phase coincided with another “global warming pause”, which lasted from the 1940s to the 1970s.

This helps to answer the second outstanding question: what happens next? It is unlikely that the ocean will continue to absorb extra heat forever. The last time that the ocean cycles switched back into warming mode, in the 1970s, temperatures resumed their rapid rise.

The “global warming pause” argument is very seductive. None of us really wants climate change to be real; it is much more comfortable to believe that there are no reasons for doing anything about it, at least not yet. But the climate system cannot be turned on and off like the knob on a cooker. We have to make decisions today based on the best projections of risk that scientists can provide.

If our emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise as they are now, the world is likely to see temperatures increase by about 4°C by the end of this century. This is similar to the temperature difference between the last Ice Age and today. There is also a significant risk of setting events in train that cannot be stopped, such as melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which would eventually raise the sea level around the world by about seven metres.

Britain has crucial decisions to make on our response to climate change in the next few years. As a nation, we can only make sensible choices if we’re properly informed. With issues such as the “slowdown”, that means considering all of the evidence – not just the most seductive part.

Tackle climate change issue before it is too hot to handle | Western Morning News
Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit - ECIU

See also:
New study projects slower climate change for next decade - The Week
Climate Change Could Happen Slower for the Next Decade, Study Says | TIME

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