January 7, 2010
The cool down in climate polls
As the United Nations' Copenhagen global warming catastrophe fades from memory, its emaciated remains quietly bulldozed into the freezing blue Danske harbour, public opinion had few places to go. And so it went nowhere. In fact, according to new tri-national polls released yesterday by Angus Read, the people of Canada, the Unites States and Britain are rapidly losing confidence in the whole enterprise.
Perhaps the most stunning poll result is the general lack of any confidence or hope or belief that Copenhagen could or would ever produce a binding agreement that would force the world's countries to reduce carbon emissions. To the question "Do you think the Copenhagen Accord will become a legally binding treaty in the future?", only 19% of Americans, 16% of Britons and 12% of Canadians said "yes."
Not that there was a whole lot of good feeling about Copenhagen going into last month's assembly. Under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Copenhagen opened with 170 nations clamouring for attention amid growing public doubts about the validity of global warming theory.
Increasing uncertainty shows up in yesterday's poll numbers. Angus Reid surveyed people in all three countries in November and December, before and after Copenhagen. The drop off in public support for the idea that global warming is a fact mostly caused by human activity looks most pronounced in Canada. In November, 63% of Canadians supported global warming as a man-made phenomenon. By Dec. 23, that support had fallen 52%. Among Canadians, 13% are now not sure.
A similar trend has been noted in the United States, where confidence in global warming theory has dropped to 46%, down from 49% in November -- and down from 51% in July last year. In Britain, only 43% believe man-made global warming is a fact, down from 47% in November and from 55% in July.
In all three countries, there are signs of growing skepticism. Part of the latest fall-off may be attributable to Climategate, the release of thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit. The emails, exchanged among the world's leading climate theorists, show climate science to be a battleground of conflict and uncertainty.
But there may be more going on in the public mind than emailfed skepticism. The emails, after all, received relatively little mainstream media attention, and they were only released in mid-November. The trend has been underway for months, even years, making it difficult if not impossible for politicians looking for a way out of the global warming policy swamp their governments helped create.
Not one of the three leaders of Canada, America or Britain comes out of Copenhagen looking good -- or looking all that bad -- in the minds of their citizens: 47% in Britain were dissatisfied with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's performance in Copenhagen, while 48% of Canadians were dissatisfied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's. Given that Mr. Harper was subject of nightly television and daily news reports of Canada's role as a "fossil" at Copenhagen, it could have been worse. Fewer Americans (35%) were dissatisfied with President Barack Obama's performance. On the other hand, only 40% were satisfied.
But the waters on global warming political opinion are even murkier than the simple rankings suggest. Take, for example, the 48% of Canadians who were dissatisfied with Mr. Harper's performance. As many as a quarter of their number do not think global warming is a man-made problem. Some think warming is mostly caused by natural changes in climate, and others think global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven. By deduction, one might conclude that Mr. Harper's performance was unsatisfactory to many Canadians because he did not go far enough in opposing the Copenhagen process.
Whatever the case, it is clear that public opinion on global warming is now as muddled as the science seems to be. While there appears to be growing skepticism about the theory of man-made climate change, there still appears to be a willingness to accept measures to curb climate emissions. For example, 72% in Britain support a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. How is that possible when only 43% in Britain believe warming is a man-made problem?
People may just be confused and turned off by the politics. Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, said in an interview yesterday that his impression from secondary sampling is that many people were turned off by extremists on both sides. By that he means that radical seizure of public events at Copenhagen, and the extreme positions taken, has served to confuse people rather than rally them. If the trends in the table below show anything, it is that the radicals are losing the battle.