15 March 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

Jon Krosnick of Stanford University argues that the recent issues in climate science have done very little to alter public opinion in the United States on climate change. Watch Krosnick above and read the report here. Here is the opening to the media release.

Despite recent news reports questioning the credibility of climate science, the vast majority of Americans continue to trust the scientists who say that global warming is real, according to a new Stanford University study.

"In recent months, we have seen a spate of news stories suggesting that the American public is cooling on global warming - that fewer people now believe that the planet has been heating up than they did a year ago," said Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and of political science at Stanford. "But our work shows that the percentage of Americans who believe in the existence of global warming has only dipped 5 points, from 80 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2009, and that public confidence in climate scientists has remained constant over the last few years."

Those wanting to continue to argue politics through science will find Krosnick's analysis unwelcome. However, the fact of the matter is that the battle over public opinion on climate change has long been won by those arguing for a human influence and a need for action. Those still battling over the science should consider the wisdom of Walter Lippmann, who argued that the role of politics in a democracy is not to get people to think alike, but to get people who think differently to act alike.


  1. The survey ended Nov 29, well before the furore over CRU and IPCC reached its full force.

  2. I don't think there ever was a battle over public opinion, and that will cause the argument we now see to fester.
    When the case was put forward by Gore, Mann's hockey stick and the IPCC, everybody was too shocked by the crisis as portrayed to question the claims. Unfortunately, the truth has a habit of escaping and we now have a growing disillusionment in the population which will not go away.
    Opinion is still solid in government and NGOs and this will not change easily. It will take many years for any significant shift as wide ranging policies and action plans have been set in motion.
    Public opinion is different. More people are recognising that there is no concrete evidence pointing to CO2 as the criminal, and concern over the validity of the temperature datasets is growing rapidly. These are problems which will not go away for the AGW supporters.
    Claims that the effects of CO2 have effectively bottomed out, and that further warming is not possible will also need to be explained.
    Change is never easy, but neither is conning the public. We shall see what develops.

  3. The only issue that has ever mattered is if the world is facing a climate catastrophe due to CO2.
    There is no evidence offered to date that shows we are at risk for a climate catastrophe.
    There is much evidence that shows we are being treated to fabricated, over stated, and counter factual claims of high risk.
    Money spent to avoid a non-existant crisis is money largely wasted.
    That is the issue at hand.

  4. The issue remains confused by all. It depends on the questions asked as to what the public think.


    : Will the climate change in the future? (probably everyone should agree "yes")
    : Will the future climate change be such that this changes imposes added risk to civilisation? (debatable and unsettled scientifically and politcally)
    : Is it going to get hotter or colder, and how much, within the lifetime of those living now? (debatable and unsettled scientifically and politically)
    : Is mankind the "cause" of this climate change? (debatable)
    : Is there anything that mankind can do to change the future climate? (debatable)
    : How much should current mankind spend now to influence climate? (debatable)
    : Are there other options besides de-carbonisation? (debatable)


  5. The public are not confused over Global Warming they have become increasingly skeptical and angry.

    It is the angry bit that scientists and policy makers have to worry about.

    Restating the climate science facts(?) that involves an appeal to authority will not assuage growing public anger.

    People believe they have been lied to, delibrately so, and that the values they hold and lifestyles they have worked hard for are now under direct threat.

    Expect support for action on Global Warming to fall further.

  6. "the fact of the matter is that the battle over public opinion on climate change has long been won by those arguing for a human influence and a need for action."

    Really?! So the reason the Democrats can't get a bill through the Congress they dominate is .... ... perhaps that the people aren't convinced of the need for action?! Damn, this is all so confusing. Except that the public lists global warming 21st on a list of 21 top priorities. And the percentage listing it as such has dropped consistently (from 38 to 28) over the last 3 years.

    BTW, isn't it interesting that the average skeptic is far more knowledgeable about the issues with CAGW than the average alarmist? The typical alarmist will tell you about declining polar bears, Himalayan glaciers, sea levels swamping cities, drought, and killer hurricanes -- all of which suffer from the inconvenience of being factually wrong. The average skeptic can tell you about UHI, computer models which are unverified and unvalidated, peer review abuses, thermometer siting which flunks basic science standards, refusals to disclose data or methods, incompetent statistics, and incompetent computer coding -- all of which are inconveniently true.

  7. Krosnick’s main thrust is that opinions change slowly. I agree.

    This poll shows a steady decline since April of 2008 in the numbers of people who believe “global warming is caused primarily by human activity”.

    In April, 2008 that number stood at 47%. In November, 2009 it was 37%. Climategate broke during the last week of November. As of February, 2010, the number was 35%.

    So, the data do suggest there has not been a dramatic shift since Climategate broke. But, although people are slow to change their religion, the data do indicate that the religious cult of AGW hysteria is clearly on the wane.

    By the way, this survey finds that even fewer meteorologists (24%) believe global warming is caused primarily by human activity.

    Click here for some basic climate change science.

  8. People looking for an answer they like can ask any number of poll questions. But the only question that matters is:

    Are you willing to pay $100/month in increased energy costs in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

    No meaningful climate policy is possible as long as the overwhelming majority answer "no" to that question.

  9. Politicians posing as scientists reveal themselves when they suggest that their AGW hysteria is vindicated by a majority of people believing that warming has occurred in the last 150 years.

    That is a bit like pointing to a survey of people who believe that the sun rose in the east this morning and suggesting this proves that human activity caused the sun to rise in the east.

    Now, see my previous comment.

  10. Only the most gullible 26% of British people believe in human created global warming.

    The proposition is so weak, that an avalanche of barely credible lies had to be invented to support it. At that point, the credibility of the propaganda also crumbled. Enhance media awareness education would take the numbers down even further.


    A BBC poll, which surveyed 1,000 people, revealed that 25% of adults did not believe in global warming – a rise of 8% since a similar poll in November – and the percentage of those who thought climate change was a reality fell to 75%. Of those who believed, one in three felt climate change had been exaggerated. Only 26% of people thought climate change was "established as largely manmade".



  11. "the fact of the matter is that the battle over public opinion on climate change has long been won by those arguing for a human influence and a need for action."

    What on Earth makes you say that? And why do you believe this "study" over Gallup, which shows that the public is increasingly dubious about this issue?


    The fact of the matter is that a substantial and growing portion of the public agrees that this issue is exaggerated. Moreover, there is little public support for the suggested policies, so I fail to see how there has been any success for "actionists".

  12. So the public opinion expert's opinion on the public's opinion of experts is that the public still have confidence in the experts.

    Well, he would say that, wouldn't he.

    I find the role of psychologists in the climate debate more than a little creepy.

  13. Raven (Mon Mar 15, 10:02:00 AM MDT ),

    This post dove-tails well with your point about the cost of addressing the alleged “problem”.

    The post notes that we are experiencing the 5th and final stage of AGW hysteria (and, that each of the 5 stages were entirely predictable from the beginning). The cited source in that post is well worth the 8 page read.

    This post addresses the real cost of addressing the alleged “problem”.

    This link tells us something about the associated cost/benefit ratio.

  14. Raven said... 8

    "But the only question that matters is:

    Are you willing to pay $100/month in increased energy costs in order to reduce CO2 emissions."

    Exactly. At $5 or $10 a month the discussion becomes fairly moot.
    No one believes fossil fuel prices are not going up in the future.

    So a very simple political argument can be made.

    Further investment in fossil fuel based electricity leaves us vulnerable to future price spikes. If we invest today in non fossil based electricity generation and more efficient forms of transportation we will save a lot of money tomorrow.

    The problem with the AGW crowd is that in order to get people to act on the policy that either have to invoke fear or a sense social responsibility.

    Appealing to 'self interest' tends to be more politically expedient.

    The Hockey Stick chart the politico's should be trotting out is fossil fuel energy prices.

    Nobody has to convince the 8 million homeowners who heat with oil how painful fossil fuel price spikes are.

    The residential price of natural gas doubled between 1999 and 2008. So the people who heat with natural gas are already convinced of how painful price spikes can be as well.

  15. Isn't this showing us that most peoples' views of the science are driven by their social and political beliefs about AGW, rather than the other way around?

  16. Harrywr2,

    The need to protect ourselves from spikes in fossil fuels prices is not the same as the desire to reduce CO2 emissions because not all fossil fuels face the same supply constraints (i.e. gas and coal) and it is possible to expand the supply of fossil fuels with unconventional sources such as the oil shales and oil sands.

    The only way to get an effective anti-CO2 policy is to convince people that reducing CO2 is something that they will pay money for. Trying to conflate CO2 reductions with some other cause like energy security will inevitably undermine the the CO2 policy as the secondary objective becomes the primary objective in people's minds.

  17. Raven (Mon Mar 15, 11:42:00 AM MDT),

    Your cart is way too far ahead of your horse.

    First, you have to convince me that there is any merit in reducing CO2 emissions. Dr. Pielke repeatedly declines to attempt to do so. How about you?

    Harrywr2 sez:

    “If we invest today in…”

    Question: Who is “we” and are “we” investing or being compelled into folly through force of law?

    Left to their own devices, private markets will -- in the most efficient and effective manner possible -- find the next generation of energy sources.

    If “we” continue to expect politicians to “lead” the way, all we’ll get are more utterly corrupt and incredibly counter-productive follies like Ethanol and Wind Power.

    P.S.) What would happen to fossil fuel prices if our Federal government simply allowed us to develop our own resources? Our hydrocarbon resources are easily seven times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

  18. Much more informative about the social mood is Philip Stott's piece, Global Warming: the Collapse of a Grand Narrative,

  19. Roger:
    Did you look at the survey questions? http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com/pdf/AP-Stanford_University_Environment_Poll_Topline.pdf

    This survey includes classic examples of push questions and their inclusion makes me cautious about any of the findings.

    For example, Take a look at the transition between Questions 32 and 33:
    Q32. How much do you think average people are doing now to deal with global warming?
    Q33. Some people believe that the United States government should limit the amount of air pollution that U.S. businesses can produce. Other people believe that the government should not limit air pollution from U.S. businesses. What about you? Do you think the government should or should not limit air pollution from U.S. businesses?

    QU 33 is essentially asking "Hands up all those in favor of air pollution?"
    Of course, the survey has the science a bit mixed up here: Did you know that air pollution causes global warming as opposed to global cooling? Me neither.

    Also, what would the differences in responses to the following question be if you changed the cost from per month to per year?

    For example:
    Q38a. What if a cap and trade program significantly lowered greenhouse
    gases but raised your monthly electrical bill by 10 dollars a month – in that case would you favor or oppose it?
    Answers (N~500):
    Total Favor 37%
    Strongly favor 16
    Somewhat favor 21
    Total Oppose 59%
    Somewhat oppose 20
    Strongly oppose 39

    You don't really have to guess, since the next question asks:

    Q38b. What if a cap and trade program significantly lowered greenhouse
    gases but raised your monthly electrical bill by 25 dollars a month – in that case would you favor or oppose it?
    Total Favor 20%
    Strongly favor 8
    Somewhat favor 12
    Total Oppose 75%
    Somewhat oppose 24
    Strongly oppose 51

    My guess this suggests sufficient general price sensitivity that using the numbers $120 per year and $300 per year would have led to even a higher level of rejection of any policy that increased consumer costs.

    As someone also noted this survey was conducted before Climategate and Glaciergate hit the news.

    I also get mildy suspicious when an analyst combines answers in a misleading way:
    Q7. How much do you trust the things that scientists say about the environment - completely, a lot, a moderate
    amount, a little, or not at all?
    Completely/A Lot 32%
    Completely 8
    A lot 24
    A moderate amount 38%
    A Little/Not at All 30%

    Most analysts I know would focus on the 32% who Trust Completely or A Lot. Dr. Krosnick must use a different rule book, since he includes the middle category in the top two groups.
    ""Our research shows that the negative publicity surrounding climategate had no meaningful impact on public confidence in climate scientists," he said. "In 2008, 68 percent of our respondents said they trusted scientists completely, a lot or a moderate amount. In the 2009 survey, the number was 70 percent – up two points." http://woods.stanford.edu/research/majority-believe-global-warming.html

    I am not impressed. But then what do I know after having spent 35 years designing and analyzing surveys.

  20. I'd agree to an extent with Krosnick's assertion, though he's taking a rather linear approach to public opinion. While that approach is valid, and may still be so wrt climate change, public opinion can be swayed, massively, by random unanticipated events--9/11 or Pearl Harbor are two extreme examples of that; Upton Sinclair's The Jungle also comes to mind as an even earlier example that doesn't rely on deadly attack.

    One question then is whether the CRU emails, the failings of the IPCC which appear to be ongoing, the failure of Copenhagen, and the cold winter rise to the level of unanticipated events that may change opinions. In that regard, Kronick doesn't actually have any data, other than his "30 years experience" which is just an educated guess.

    The other issue that's not being addressed is there are two distinct elements of AGW and the science of AGW. One is the physical science itself, CO2 being GHG, etc. The other part is that AGW will lead to some major catastrophe for mankind.

    The rhetoric of AGW proponents has become increasingly shrill, not only that AGW will lead to the catastrophic end of human civilization, but now, every severe weather event is the harbinger of doom. This starts turning into a chicken little scenario. It's one thing to say the sky's going to fall in 100 years, but it's becoming the sky is going to fall tomorrow. Eventually enough tomorrows happen and when the sky still hasn't fallen, those scenarios begin to ring hollow.

    Those still battling over the science should consider the wisdom of Walter Lippmann, who argued that the role of politics in a democracy is not to get people to think alike, but to get people who think differently to act alike.

    Non-scientist AGW proponents may also want to think about this. They claim far more than what the science can support (I wonder how many are still running with the Himalayan glaciers melting by 2030?). They don't appeal to science, they appeal to emotion and fear. If one thing is certain, proponents are failing miserably at getting people who think differently to act alike. The problem is, they've turned AGW into a political, and not a science, issue. In fact, it's becoming a litmus test of sorts for Democrats/Liberals, in the same way abortion is for the GOP.

    Also, the science of WG1 may be on the proponents' side, but the science of WGII and WGIII, especially the latter, clearly is not. The biggest problem that proponents are going to run into, and already have, is that their one major mitigation strategy, Cap and Trade, won't actually reduce actual emissions of CO2. Australia is an excellent case study in that. Japan is probably another. Even the most notable scientist-proponent of AGW, James Hansen, thinks Cap and Trade won't work. If one truly believes CO2 emissions will lead to catastrophe, CT is probably the worse thing to support unquestioningly.

    To look at public opinion on AGW another way and how much numbers can really tell us, 90% of Americans may believe in God, but only 40% claim to attend church weekly. Additional studies have show actual attendance to be much lower (even up to half--20%). With AGW, how many who say the believe AGW really truly believe? And for those who do, do they all believe in the same mitigation strategy?

  21. I believe that nicotine is not addictive


    Like the tobacco CEOs , I would like to see the top 10 sponsored climate scientists answer the following questions.

    Please tell us how much the world's output of Co2 has to be curtailed by in order to prevent a catastrophic and irreversable change in the climate.

    Please explain why you believe that.

    Followed by the top 10 physicists being asked the same questions.

    I predict that global warming would be laughed out of Congress because I have never heard a straight answer to those questions. Let them come out from behind the hired gun politicians like Gore, Blair Pachauri, Stern etc.

  22. Roger, if you are thinking of appropriate Lippmann quotes for climate change, how about this?
    "Unless the reformer can invent something which substitutes attractive virtues for attractive vices, he will fail. "
    This seems extremely relevant ;)