Concerns Over Global Warming Slipping

Some readers strongly disagreed with me when I placed Climategate as one of the Top 10 Energy Related Stories of 2009. However, I have not changed my mind about what I think will be significant and lingering impacts from this event.

I am acquainted with a number of Global Warming skeptics, and I know many more who are on the fence. Many in the U.S. Congress fall into those categories. A story indicating possible data suppression/manipulation of climate data was going to get a lot of mileage. Skeptics are going to use it to full advantage, and many fence-sitters are going to be swayed. So my reasoning was that it would ultimately have significant long-term implications. In fact, I think if there was ever much chance the U.S. would pass major legislation to stem carbon emissions, Climategate squashed that possibility.

Polls have already shown that concern over Global Warming is falling in the U.S. This weekend I saw a story in one of the major New Zealand newspapers that shows concern is slipping here as well. One of the cited reasons? Climategate.

Recession eclipses planet’s problems

Public concern about global warming appears to have eased in the past year, following economic uncertainty and widespread media coverage of climate science slip-ups.

An online survey of 1066 people in February and March found the majority believed climate change was an immediate problem – but the proportion of believers had fallen from 76 per cent in 2008 to 65 per cent this year.

The latest poll follows a Nielsen survey of the Herald Readers’ Panel in December, which found one in five of 2296 respondents thought global warming was a giant con, and a further 28 per cent thought it had not been conclusively proved.

Almost all governments accept the findings of a UN report based on the work of hundreds of scientists which concluded in 2007 that warming of the climate was “unequivocal”.

But public confidence was dented when, shortly before world climate talks in Copenhagen, emails were released showing a few leading scientists tried to avoid releasing data to their doubters, in breach of British freedom of information laws.

Relative to the U.S., those in New Zealand who believe Global Warming is an immediate problem is still pretty strong at 65%. (The latest poll in the U.S. showed 35% thought the problem is very serious, and another 30% somewhat serious). But the New Zealand poll also showed a sizeable fraction who either think Global Warming is a scam, or that it hasn’t been conclusively proven.

One other thing this indicates is something that I have long maintained: Our environmental concerns have been facilitated by cheap energy. We can all afford the luxury of being environmentally concerned as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us. Once we start paying higher prices to protect the environment, people are no longer as enthusiastic. That’s why I believe that we will end up burning all the fossil fuels that we have, and the only realistic solution to rising carbon emissions is that we run out of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Of the 30% in the U.S. who believe Global Warming is “somewhat serious”, how many do you suppose would support 10% higher gas prices – or anything else that hits them in the wallet – to help mitigate Global Warming?

Note: For those who don’t know my own views on this subject, see my recent essay detailing my views on a number of different energy issues.