what’s happening to global temperatures?
Sometimes you read a news article and you think “that can’t be right” and it is. Yesterday was a case in point.
We now know that CO2 levels have increased at their fastest rate for 30 years this year, with speculation among climate scientists that the biosphere may no longer be able to absorb as much CO2 as it has been doing. Radiative forcing, that is the combined effect of all the greenhouse gases, increased by by over a third between 1990 and 2013. And while the oceans are able to mitigate the impact of all these extra greenhouse gases, reducing the temperature increase, the cost is acidification and that means losing coral reefs and everything that goes with them.
These are all scientific statements – not my personal point of view. It’s just scientists developing hypotheses, collecting data, writing peer-reviewed papers and getting them published. All straightforward stuff. This process has produced many thousands of scientific papers on climate science, of which 97% concluded that Climate Change is human-induced.
A recent YouGov poll found that of the general public 80% agreed the climate was changing, and 60% thought this was due to human activity. But when a similar poll was conducted of our parliamentarians, a very different picture emerged. The poll found that just 51% agreed that the science conclusively showed Climate Change was human-induced.
Looking more closely at the figures, of Labour MPs nearly 3/4 agreed about the human impact on Climate Change and over 2/3 of LibDems. This is interesting in itself, that the “greener” Libdems have more doubters.
The most shocking figures are for the Tory party. Just 30% believed that the case had been made for human-induced climate change. That’s 91 of the 304 Tory MPs believe that the science is now irrefutable. 53% or 161 Tory MPs believe the science is inconclusive. Even a quarter of Labour MPs believe this, and a third of Lib Dems.
Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly – 18%, that’s 55 Tory MPs, believe that GLobal Warming is “environmentalist propaganda”. And 5 Labour MPs share this view. I imagine many of these will be on UKIP’s defection hit list.
Now if, as some might think, our MPs are in Parliament to represent their constituents views, then quite a large number have views on Climate Change well at odds with their constituents. And the 60 deniers are particularly vulnerable to this criticism.
The interesting PR Week special article on Climate Change seeks to identify why there is so much scepticism and denial amongst MPs and places some of the responsibility with the PR industry. The key section for me is here:
“According to an analysis of climate change reporting in six countries by the Reuters Institute of Journalism and Birkbeck College, ‘deniers’ are almost exclusively represented in the US and the UK. This may explain why in Ipsos Mori’s Global Trends, a survey across 20 countries, the US, UK and Australia are at the top of the list for the percentage of people doubting global warming is man-made.
The analysis also found that in these countries a particularly high proportion of climate coverage consists of opinion pieces rather than news content. This creates the impression that the scientific community is divided. It also transforms science into politics, a PR tactic used in the past against regulations on smoking, acid rain and the ozone layer, argue Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their 2010 book Merchants of Doubt.
Concern about the ability of deniers to confuse the debate has become so acute that over the summer the US-based Climate Investigations Center decided to research the role of PR agencies in climate policies. Of 25 PR agencies contacted, fewer than half (Weber Shandwick, Waggener Edstrom, Text100 Corporation, Finn Partners, Qorvis Communications, Ogilvy Public Relations and the entire WPP group, and later Edelman) said they would not take campaigns that deny man-made climate change or hinder regulations to limit carbon pollution. These campaigns would breach the codes of conduct of business associations such as the International Public Relations Association or, in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.”
In part this merely reflects the weakness of industry codes – since there is no enforcement, they can be ignored, and frequently are.
While the article rightly identifies the denier locus in the UK, US and Australia, I think also the article misses a crucial factor – Think Tanks. Think Tanks of the Right are also peculiar phenomenon of these three countries. In the UK, Think Tanks (or Astroturf outfits) like the IEA the CPS and obviously the Global Warming Policy Foundation are overtly denialist. These are helped along/work in concert with high profile journalists such as Christopher Booker, Simon Heffer, Richard North and James Delingpole, who are all given inordinately large quantities of airtime by the BBC and other mass media outlets. The Think Tanks and journalists of the right also have very strong links to the Right of the Tory Party. It is therefore no real surprise that so many Tories are sceptical or paranoid about Climate Change – as they are being drip fed toxic anti-environmental rhetoric on a daily basis.
What can be done? Well, there’s a general election coming up. If the 60% of the electorate who accept the Climate Science were to ask their MPs what their views on Climate Change were, and vote accordingly, we could get rid of these people from their positions of power within the Parliament. It’s just a pity the same cannot be done for the Lords, where Lord Lawson sits and wields considerable influence along with other denialist Peers, such as Viscount Matt Ridley.