09 June 2010

The Battle for Public Opinion has Been Over

In an op-ed in the New York Times today Jon Krosnick of Stadford University writes:

In our survey, which was financed by a grant to Stanford from the National Science Foundation, 1,000 randomly selected American adults were interviewed by phone between June 1 and Monday. When respondents were asked if they thought that the earth’s temperature probably had been heating up over the last 100 years, 74 percent answered affirmatively. And 75 percent of respondents said that human behavior was substantially responsible for any warming that has occurred.

For many issues, any such consensus about the existence of a problem quickly falls apart when the conversation turns to carrying out specific solutions that will be costly. But not so here.

Fully 86 percent of our respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit, and 76 percent favored government limiting business’s emissions of greenhouse gases in particular. Not a majority of 55 or 60 percent — but 76 percent.

Large majorities opposed taxes on electricity (78 percent) and gasoline (72 percent) to reduce consumption. But 84 percent favored the federal government offering tax breaks to encourage utilities to make more electricity from water, wind and solar power.

And huge majorities favored government requiring, or offering tax breaks to encourage, each of the following: manufacturing cars that use less gasoline (81 percent); manufacturing appliances that use less electricity (80 percent); and building homes and office buildings that require less energy to heat and cool (80 percent).

Thus, there is plenty of agreement about what people do and do not want government to do.

As I have said for many years, and documented in The Climate Fix, the battle for public opinion on climate change has been won by those who argue that there is a profound human influence on climate and action is warranted. This has been the message of opinion polls for as long as 20 years.

The effort to cleanse the world of climate skeptics that occupies the attention of so many climate bloggers is simply a waste of effort, if the goal is to advance climate policies. The public support is there -- and has been for many years. The battle over climate science is so over that those wanting to continue this fight have to try to label people with whom they disagree with "climate skeptics" or "climate deniers" just to pick a fight (trust me, I've seen this happen;-).

I fully expect that the blogospheric wars over climate change science to continue ad nausem, because people enjoy it and it allows people (on various sides) to assert the authority of science in a political debate. But by now it should be clear, such debates are just entertainment or sport, they are not related to public opinion or political action.

Sorry for those who wish things were otherwise, but the science debate is over. Time to raise the white flag.