Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Copenhagen - does anybody really care?


    There’s an advert currently playing Scottish cinemas paid for by the environmental campaign group, Plane Stupid.  It shows polar bears falling from the sky, bouncing off tall buildings, and then landing in bloody heaps on the city streets.  Killed by plane emissions. It’s pretty disgusting, and when it was shown at a cinema last week the largely youthful audience erupted in derision.  “That’s bloody ridiculous. F@@@ing ar@@holes” was one of the comments I overheard.  I fear there may be a bit of consumer resistance here, guys. 

   There may be very little scientific doubt about the reality of man made climate change, but there are signs that, right now, a lot of ordinary people just don’t want to know.  It’s not just the internet, which has become a seething hotbed of climate change “denial” as the green campaigners put it.  It’s not just the conventional media, that tend to give the isolated opponents of anthropogenic climate change equal status with the vast majority of climate scientists.  Even before the scandal at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, where some hacked emails suggested that researchers might have manipulated some of the figures, evidence was growing that the public are increasingly sceptical.

    An Ipsos Mori poll in the Guardian last year dismayed campaigners by showing that a majority of people in Britain are not convinced by the case for climate change and that many believe that green taxes are just ‘stealth’ taxes.    A recent populus poll in the Times suggested that only a quarter of people believe that climate change is the most serious problem the world faces.  Research earlier this year by the University of Cardiff, suggests that  number of people who do not trust climate scientists about global warming has doubled in the last five years. In America, despite the arrival of Barack Obama, climate change scepticism is also on the march. A Pew poll in October found that 57% of Americans believe the earth is warming, down from 71% in April 2008.  Only 36% put this down to human activities, compared with 47% last year.  

   Now, it isn’t all bad.  Most people do believe that the climate is changing and that we need to be concerned about it.  But this disconnect between the scientific establishment and the public is extremely worrying, not least on the eve of a Copenhagen Summit which many believe will end in deadlock. It has emboldened countries like Saudi Arabia, that rely on oil for a living, to start saying that the climate case is unproven.  Simultaneously, the galaxy of green organisations, which used to be so much part of British youth culture, seem to have lost their voice. This may be because the environmentalists are now part of the establishment.  Gordon Brown increasingly sounds like a spokesman for Greenpeace, condemning “flat earthers” who deny global warming.

    Since the Stern Report two years ago, governments across the world have largely fallien into line behind the case for anthropogenic climate change.  This has left a vacuum of dissent which is being filled by the sometimes rabid climate sceptics of the blogosphere.  There is endemic suspicion today of politicians and scientists - it is one of the defining characteristics of the age of paranoia.  The mere fact that governments think the climate is changing is enough to make many antiestablishment minded people believe that the whole thing must be a hoax.  Or just a false alarm - like the millennium bug, bird flu, BSE or any of a hundred health scares over the last decade. 

   The internet has allowed this climate scepticism to flourish. Indeed, the undermining of the case for man made climate change may be the first major achievement of the blogosphere - its first dubious entry into public affairs.  The sheer volume of negative commentary on climate change on the internet is astonishing, and is enough to make any casual internet surfer believe that climate change is at best just a questionable theory. The environmentalists, for all their early adoption of the internet, don’t seem to be able to mobilise effectively on it.  Scientists don’t blog - or if they do it is on erudite websites that don't come up on Google. 

    The argument is over in the scientific community.  All the national science academies of the industrialised countries accept that the climate is changing and that we are largely responsible.  So do all the world’s leading scientific organisations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Colleges,  the European Science Foundation, the US National Research Council.  The Meteorological Office, American Meteorological Society, the World Meteorological Organisations. These organisations endorse the assessment of the 2,500 scientists of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that there is about a 90% chance that it is happening and we are responsible. You can't buck the scientific consensus.  But it doesn’t mean a thing if the public don’t believe it. 

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