Climate Change Denial

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July 25, 2007


George Marshall @ 5:56 pm

dog-poo.jpgRecent MORI poll data reveals that that most people still believe that climate change is undecided, in the future, somewhere else and someone else’s problem – all, need I say, classic denial strategies. As a local concern it rates behind dog poo.

Ipsos-MORI’s new report ‘Tipping Point or Turning Point- a report on social attitudes to climate change’ makes disturbing reading.

As noted in previous postings the mendacious, cynical and utterly irresponsible Swindle programme (and the media that praised it) has been seized upon as an excuse for delaying decision making. 40% of people agree that ‘climate change is too complex and uncertain for scientists to make useful forecasts’. And 56% of people agree that ‘many leading experts still question if human activity is contributing to climate change?’A quarter of people tend to agree that “too much fuss is made about climate change nowadays”.

The sense of doubt seeded by the denial industry has also encouraged two thirds of people to say ‘I need more information to form a clear opinion about climate change’. When they say this, I don’t believe that they actually want more information – there is plenty out there if they want it. I think they are happily adopting the excuse that the science is undecided to create an obstacle to personal engagement.

A third of people say that they have not personally seen any evidence of climate change and 60% of people say that it will have ‘little or no’ impacts on them personally. However, when asked how much effect it ‘will have on future generations’ the response reverses- 89% of people say a lot or a great deal.

What is interesting about this is that people are far more confident about these future impacts than they are about the science itself or the evidence that it is based on. So people’s confidence in the reality of the problem increases the further they can push it away.

There is a similar response to questions relating to the location of the impacts. Whilst 45% see climate change as “the most serious threat to future global well being’, less than 20% see ‘the environment’ as “the most important issue facing Britain today”.

The good news is that terrorism and climate change have swapped places in terms of their perceived global threat. The bad news is that people have no perception at all of climate change as a personal or local threat. When asked which three issues cause them ‘the most concern in their local environment’ only 25% rate climate change. 54% of people are most concerned about car fumes, litter, graffiti and ‘dog mess’. Clearly people’s definition of environment is flexible enough to include any number of personal grievances

The vast majority of people in the MORI polling abnegate personal responsibility for the problem. When asked how much influence different actors can have on limiting climate change, 60% of people said that they personally have little or none influence. 80% of them believe that government  or industry should deal with it.

So, once again, people become more confident about agency the further away from themselves they place it.  They are also disconcertingly confident that ‘Britain can make a real difference to stopping global climate change’ (two thirds agree) and that the ‘world community can find a solution’  to the problems posed by climate change (46% agree).

This optimism, whilst touching, derives from the definition of climate change as someone else’s problem. It is hardly justified by people’s response to the question : What is the number one thing you are doing to tackle climate change? 37% say nothing. No more than 2% claim to be doing any of the measures which would significantly reduce their emissions.

The leading personal action- after doing nothing- is recycling. As noted by MORI, recycling has become a token behaviour. I would go further and say that it is not so much tokenistic as fetishistic and that it is a classic displacement activity

People display alarming ignorance of the actions that would ‘do the most to help reduce climate change’. 40% mention recycling but only 17% mention reducing travel or energy use.  11% mention taking fewer foreign holidays.

When people perceive that they are failing to match their actions with an issue that most of them regard as a major problem (for someone or other), they resolve the dissonance by reinterpreting the things they ‘should-do’ to align with the things they ‘do-do’. So they redefine all the evidence to persuade themselves that their personal responsibility rests with tiny totemistic actions like re-using plastic bags.

We really are deep in the do-do.

Thanks to MORI for sharing the draft of ‘Tipping Point or Turning Point- a report on social attitudes to climate change’. It can be downloaded at

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3 responses to “HOW SHOULD-DO BECOMES DO-DO.”

  1. FreeRadical says:

    Back in the early nineties, I was participating in a local Friends of the Earth survey in our local town survey. We were asking passers by whether they were concerned about global warming. One response has stuck with me. The response was: “no it’s all right, I don’t live here”.
    Based-upon this and the IPSOS-Mori survey
    Seems that either people have swallowed the lies of the energy companies, or the numbers of extraterrestrials are on the increase!

  2. Recycling in itself may not be a frontline antidote to climate change, but seeing as we need to change so many of our profligate habits, I see no reason why you seize upon it as a pointless displacement activity. To me it is the beginning of a new respect for our environment: an awareness that we have manufactured too much and need to slow down and use up less of the ever-diminishing useful raw materials the planet can offer. Industry itself is a large source of emissions, so the more we can trade goods via Freecycle, the more food waste we can compost, the less we will need new products and chemical fertilisers. In that respect recycling is reducing many potential factory emissions.

  3. Paul says:

    Recycling is reduced energy use, isn’t it?

    Personal guilt (half-implied by the word ‘denial’) will not solve human-induced global warming. Make filament bulbs illegal and people will not buy them. Introduce strict environmental laws and enforce them – no colour coded fridges, just one colour for efficient ones. Governments have to enact laws when we are talking about billions of people.

    Telling people not to put their TV on standby and to wash their dishes by hand are trivialising/individualising a bigger problem that requires a POLITICAL solution. Surely then, the results of this survey are not so surprising.

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