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Professor Nick Pidgeon leads a team from Cardiff University that are part of the C3W Human Dimensions Cluster and the Understanding Risk Research Group. One of their research projects  used a Ipsos/MORI poll conducted in 2010 of 1,822 people in the UK. The aims were to:

• Examine current perceptions of climate change and different forms of energy production

• Investigate how British views have changed since an earlier 2005 ‘Climate Change and Energy’ survey (n=1,491)

• Examine differences between the public in England, Scotland, Wales

• Provide a platform/comparison for a subsequent detailed survey of the Welsh population in 2012 (by the Climate Change Consortium of Wales)

The headline message resulting from the research is that since 2005, fewer people think that the world’s climate is changing (down from 91% to 78%) and fewer people are concerned about climate change although overall concern about climate change remains high.

“As far as you know, do you personally think the world’s climate is changing, or not?”

“As far as you know, do you personally think the world’s climate is changing, or not?”

The typical climate change sceptic is over 55 years old, Conservative voting and on a slightly lower than average income with strong traditional values. in 2010 24% of people polled held the opinion that climate change is mainly caused by human activity and 40% of the people polled thought the seriousness of climate change was exaggerated. Research by Professor Pidgeon’s group shows that, in general, people are concerned about climate change  and until very recently the proportion in this category were increasing in number.

In general people believe climate change is happening, but some still think it is natural variation. People still confuse climate change with other environmental issues (e.g. ozone) and view it as a distant problem that affects other people in other times and places. People mostly recognise the effects of climate change will be higher temperatures in some places and melting glaciers but don’t spontaneously connect these with anthropogenic causes (energy use, deforestation, intensive agriculture) that are invisible in everyday life.

Professor Pidgeon’s research team offer the following suggestions:

1) That perceptions of climate change alter with personal experience of events that could be related to climate change, i.e flooding or extreme weather

2) That although climate scientists were initially trusted, UEA “climate-gate” emails, the political dimensions of mitigation strategies and widespread media use of the “balanced argument” principle in the recent past have given rise to increased publicity for climate change sceptics’ views. The transfer of ownership of the climate change story from scientists to the distrusted professions: politicians and journalists, has helped cause a decline in the acceptance and understanding of anthropogenic climate drivers.

There are minor differences between English, Welsh and Scottish attitudes, but these are probably due to locally grounded beliefs based on environment, energy use and sense of community.

The presentation Professor Pidgeon gave at the recent C3W Research event explains these findings more fully and can be found here.

Information Future C3W work in this area includes a WAG Environmental Attitudes Survey (summer 2011, Poortinga with Ipsos-Mori) and a 2012 C3W Cross-Wales survey of Climate Beliefs (Pidgeon, Whitehead, Poortinga, Whitmarsh).
The Team: Nick Pidgeon Adam Corner Wouter Poortinga Alexa Spence Dan Venables Christina Demski Lorraine Whitmarsh Stuart Capstick  
Full report at: www.understanding-risk.org