I like data from tracking polls. There is often no “correct” way of asking about a subject and answers can come down to how you word a question, but if you ask a question in the same way over a long period of time then – all things being equal – any significant change you see should reflect a genuine change in public opinion. For that reason I am always very loathe to change the wording of tracking questions, as you are throwing away all that past data and any change you see is as likely to be due to different wording as it is to changing opinion. However, there comes a time when the vocabulary used in the public debate changes, and the wording you’ve used in the past really isn’t the wording you’d use if designing a question today.

In past years YouGov has asked about public opinion towards climate change using this question:

On the subject of climate change do you think:
The world is becoming warmer as a result of human activity
The world is becoming warmer but NOT because of human activity
The world is NOT becoming warmer
Not sure

  • In 2008, 55% thought human activity was making the world warmer, 25% thought the world was getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 7% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 13% weren’t sure.
  • In 2010, 39% thought human activity was making the world warmer, 27% thought the world was getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 18% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 16% weren’t sure.
  • In 2012 43% thought human activity was making the world warmer, 22% thought the world was getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 15% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 20% weren’t sure.
  • Now 39% think human activity was making the world warmer, 16% think the world is getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 28% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 17% weren’t sure.

For what its worth the percentage of people thinking that human activity is making the world warmer fell between 2008 and 2010, but has been pretty constant for the last 3 years. However, the proportion of people who think the world isn’t getting warmer at all has markedly increased – from just 7% in 2008 to 28% now. This isn’t really surprising given some of the weather we’ve had of late (before anyone points it out, localised weather is Britain is clearly not necessarily reflective of global temperatures… but that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact on public opinion!).

However since 2008 the debate has also changed, and has often concentrated upon wider impacts of climate change, on weather patterns, on making weather more extreme or unpredictable and so on, rather than just the narrower issue of rising global temperatures. You can imagine this may have a significant impact on someone’s answers – there may well be people who think that climate change is happening… but not in the sense of increasing global temperatures. This month YouGov asked two questions in parallel, on two separate samples – one asking about the world getting warmer, the other asking about the world’s climate changing. It produces very different results.

39% of people think human activity is making the world warmer. 53% of people think human activity is changing the world’s climate.
16% think the world is getting warmer, but not because of human activity. 26% think the climate is changing, but NOT because of human activity
28% think the world is NOT getting warmer. 6% think the climate is not changing.

119 Responses to ““Global Warming” or “Climate Change””

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  1. I had a haircut today and when I got home my Mum said how handsome I looked, I’ve now demanded a formal written apology. It’s not right for her to make sexist remarks such as these, I am deeply offended.

  2. @TOH – hope the rugby is going well.

    “The point that nobody apart from Colin seems to pick up is that population growth is a bigger threat. I am also old enough and therefore cynical enough to believe that neither climate change nor population increase will be dealt with other than as Colin says by adapting, and evolving via natural selection.”

    Firstly, natural selection (among humans at least) won’t do anything for us – we have effectively ceased to evolve, so we need to craft solutions via our social structures, rather rely on biology.

    I do, however, largely agree with your first point, and indeed I was talking about this earlier in relation to child benefit and numbers of children.

    I would though suggest that we can’t separate population and carbon emissions as separate issues. Effectively environmental impacts are the net result of numbers and individual impact, a bit like needing both sides of a rectangle to calculate the area.

    If we reduced population, but those remaining consumed more carbon producing stuff, then we wouldn’t get anywhere, although we could accept far more people if we all consumed the same as the average Chinese citizen currently does.

    I think we can all agree that it’s very complicated, intertwined, and full of uncertainties.

  3. @Alec

    Sorry just read your earlier post I can see your as cynical as I am re World outcomes and agree with Colin’s point re natural selection. My apologies.

  4. @Alec

    Another apology, i should not have used cynical to describe your attitude, realistic is probably better. Not sure we have stopped evolving though.

    I do agree that both problems are intertwined.

    Have a nice evening.

    I had a haircut today and when I got home my Mum said how handsome I looked, I’ve now demanded a formal written apology. It’s not right for her to make sexist remarks such as these, I am deeply offended.

    Nature has cut my hair with the genes of evolution and the shears of age. How I wish I might venture forth for a haircut let alone in the hope for a sexist compliment to boot.

  6. ALEC

    @”we have effectively ceased to evolve,”

    Not true.

    Have a look at :-

    Spreading of Lactose tolerance .
    Disappearance of wisdom teeth.
    Resistance to disease.
    Hemaglobin & oxygen carrying in Tibetans.

    Evolution will occur in humans , as in other species, when there is sufficient selection pressure to produce it. Significant change in ambient temperature would be one such.

    When ( & it will be when) one of the numerous terrestrial & extra-terrestrial “natural” time bombs awaiting us go off, we will be faced with dramatic changes in our lifestyle.

    These changes may destroy the means of sustaining our technology or severely disrupt it.

    Homo sapiens has much to face well before the sun incinerates all it’s satellites.

    And when we do , those that evolve to adapt will be less numerous than we are now.

    THis will not be the first bottleneck in human population growth. The last one , 70k years ago reduced our numbers to c 10,000 individuals. The supervolcano under Lake Toba is just winding up again down there-as is Yellowstone.

  7. ALEC

    @”Effectively environmental impacts are the net result of numbers and individual impact, ”

    And numbers can & do have the greater impact.

    China, with the world’s largest total Co2 emissions, has per capita emissions 60% less than those of USA -the second largest producer.

    If you could do one thing to mitigate CO2 output in China it would be reduction of the population.
    In USA it would be reduction of per capita consumption.

    It should be said that man’s “environmental impact” is not restricted to the atmosphere.

    It is his terrestrial impact-mainly through land clearance for agriculture & timber , together with associated water extraction -which has so devastated our natural bio-diversity .

    And to think that all of this destruction has occurred in the mere 7,000 years since intensive farming & irrigation was developed is incredible.

  8. Of course we are still evolving, right now the middles classes have a fatal flaw in their DNA which will eventually lead to their extinction, namely their suicidal reluctance to reproduce. Benefit scroungers on the other hand have no such reluctance so they will pass on their DNA to their offspring and one day everyone will be a benefit scrpungent, That’s evolution in action!!

  9. @ RiN

    Yes, the European secular Intelligentsia are doomed as you say, because of their suicidal reluctance to reproduce.
    Look at the problems the Italians and native Germans are now having with their populations since their young couples increasingly break away from the Catholic doctrine “to be fruitful” – it seems to be a combination of belief and evolution at play here? Thank goodness immigration is making up the shortfall – otherwise we all would be in trouble in our old age, with insufficient economically active persons to finance our subsistence!

  10. I had a haircut today and when I got home my Mum said how handsome I looked, I’ve now demanded a formal written apology. It’s not right for her to make sexist remarks such as these, I am deeply offended.
    Irony? Or is the above illustrative of a minority who don’t understand – or do understand but refuse to acknowledge – that there’s a difference between a family having a private conversation & the American President (highest elected office in the world) making a public comment which will be widely reported by the media?

  11. Amber
    He can’t help it – he’s a man. It’s what men do. It may be pathetic, but it is so ( as Galileo Galilei once said to the Inquisition – well, abridged slightly).

  12. TONY DEAN.
    Quite so. However in Northern Ireland ‘the demographic’ now has the former majority ‘community’ in the minority, even in the Six Counties (Ulster has nine counties).

    Thanks everyone for your hair stories; really needed to know all this.
    I notice IDS has little; hence will not need to spend his cash on a haircut.

  13. Non climate post.

    The battle ground for the next GE have now been set on the three main issues of the economy,welfare and immigration like many others I assumed because of the polling figures this would be an insurmountable hill for the Tories to climb, but on reflection I’m not sure that’s the case I believe a tipping point has been reached in support for unrestricted welfare as preached by the previous government, equally I’m sure there’s very little support for anymore mass immigration again as practised by the last government which leaves the economy, well it depends on which side of the fence you sit as to whether you believe the present or previous government have made a bigger mess of it to-date.
    Whoever wins the next GE, unlike some who post here I don’t see that it’s going to be anything like a landslide victory, nor do I think the likely outcome can be predicted by by-election or council election results mainly because turn outs will continue to be so low as disaffection with all main political parties continues.
    I have been following politics for over 40yrs and I don’t recall a time when there was so much disillusionment and mistrust of politicians from all sides as there is now.
    Maybe it’s down to over exposure on television or the public thinking that the predominantely middle class university educated political class left or right no longer represents their interests or even there views.

  14. @Amber

    Do you have a link to what Obama said.

    Men use a lot of casual sexism often without meanung to offend, and sonetimes as a compliment. It’s difficult to draw a line, unless it’s something demeaning.

  15. @Amber

    Just read the remarks. He should not have said them. They were inappropriate.

  16. On the evolution issue, I kind of veer towards Alec’s stance but with a nod to Colin.

    We will of course continue to evolve biologically. There are bound to be mutations that confer benefits and hence are preferentially propagated. But the converse is less true – non-optimal mutations are less likely to result in failure to procreate as medical capabilities continue to improve.

    But in any case, biological evolution is already very much a secondary issue. We are already a combination of biology and technology. I am short-sighted and had shocking teeth when I was a kid. My teeth were corrected by near-miraculous (to me at any rate: in fact of course it was utterly routine) orthodontic work. My short-sightedness by laser correction that truly WOULD have seemed miraculous 60 years ago. 500 years ago, I would have been a village idiot and probably died young with no issue. Instead, I gained a PhD, a wonderful wife and 2 bright and healthy kids.

    And that is before you think about the Kurzweillian way in which we are becoming more entwined with our technology. My grandkids will chortle behind their hands when I tell them how proud I was to be on University Challenge in the 80s. What is the sociological, economic or evolutionary advantage to have a vast wealth of general knowledge in the era of Google? Anyone on the planet can more or less instantly access the correct spelling of Bouillabaisse, the decade that the ILP gained its first MP, or the definition of a parsec.

    Similarly, my take on anthropomorphic global warming is that it is more or less hopeless expecting voluntary changes of energy generation and usage habit to be sufficient for us to avoid the worst effects. Or rather, to avoid the worst effects without major intra- or inter-state conflict. We have become a technological species and we are going to have to rely in technology to find mitigation measures to pull us out of the problem.

  17. Am not an Attenborough fan but he makes the vaild point that the greatest threat we face is World Overpopulation. But politicians do not like to tackle that subject – nor do quangos like Save the Children.

  18. @ToH

    Population growth is of course an issue as more people means more appetite for the Earth’s natural resources. However, in most ‘Western’ countries, population due to birth/death has levelled out, with growth largely due to immigration. It is something to be concerned about, but population growth in parts of the world such as India and Africa is wholly outside the control of the UK government.

    However, energy policy for the next 100 years is under their control and for nothing other than security of supply, we need to diversify our production of energy. Germany have recognised this and don’t want to left in a position where they are totally beholden to the Russians. I think we should adopt a similar approach, with the benefit of also getting a big slice of the technology/manufacturing pie. Renewables technology is becoming increasingly cheaper and with additional economies of scale, there’s no reason why it can’t be economically competitive with fossil fuels in the future and provide a boost to our economy.

  19. I have come to the conclusion that we all have a little blame global warming and its consequences and guilt even more politicians who do not slow down.

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