Most people believe that scientists are evenly split for and against on the evidence of climate change, and are unaware of the powerful scientific consensus that prevails. Most people personally support renewable energy, but believe they are in a minority: they are not. These are just two of the contradictions revealed in a poll by the new Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, set up to support informed debate across the mainstream media. The unit has its work cut out.
Yet public opinion is being reshaped in the face of experience: for half of the population surveyed, the winter floods strengthened their belief that the climate is changing. A quarter of said the floods also strengthened their belief in human activity as the main cause.
And despite the claims made by energy companies, almost half of an energy-sceptic public (46%) thinks that shale gas exploitation would make no difference to energy bills. Sixteen percent think bills will go up, 27% believe they will fall.
When we met the new Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit earlier this year we heard of their aim to promote evidence-based communication across the mainstream media on energy and climate change. It hopes to provide an information hub, and to encourage stakeholder engagement in the debate.
The unit’s opening shot is a ComRes poll showing that:
- Only one person in nine (11%) is aware of the strength of the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. The ECIU says this carries ‘uncomfortable echoes’ of the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) controversy of 15 years ago.
- Nearly half the UK population (47%) think either that most climate scientists reject human activities such as fossil fuel burning as the main driver of climate change (11%), or that scientists are evenly split on the issue (35%). Yet the reality is that that more than 90% of climate scientists agree that the main cause of climate change is human activity
- Only a tiny minority of us (5%) realise that renewables such as solar and wind are supported by a significant majority of the UK population (about 80%). Two-thirds (63%) of people interviewed think they are in a minority.
“This survey shows that there’s a huge gap between reality and perception on some key climate and energy issues. These are important findings given that the UK has crucial decisions to make on our response to climate change and our energy system in the next few years.A central part of the new unit’s work will be to provide clear, accessible, up-to-date and expert-reviewed briefings on key topics.
The breakdown between the views of scientists and the public on climate change is a particular concern. This feels reminiscent of the situation around MMR where most Britons thought the medical profession was split on the safety of the vaccine whereas doctors were virtually unanimous that it was safe.”