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Too hot to handle

Are cracks appearing in the public acceptance of the climate threat?

By James Dacey

As the scientific community has moved towards a stronger consensus that man made climate change is happening, the general public must have become less sceptical about the issue – right??


Well, wrong in the case of the British public, according to social scientist Lorraine Whitmarsh, who carried out separate opinion surveys in 2003 and 2008.

Over this five year period, the number of respondents who believe that claims about the effects of climate change have been exaggerated has risen from 15 to 29 per cent.

What’s more, over half of respondents in the latest survey feel that the media have been too “alarmist” in their reporting of the issue.

Sceptics are more likely to be men, older people, rural dwellers and – perhaps surprisingly – higher earners.

Speaking at the British Science festival in Guildford, Whitmarsh also referred to a recent poll by Euro barometer to say that Brits are more sceptical than most other Europeans on the issue.

When asked if she could explain the rising scepticism, Whitmarsh replied that it could be something to do with the way science is taught in British schools.

“Perhaps the way we teach science should reflect the inevitable uncertainty of
the scientific process,” she said.

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  1. John Duffield

    I’d say it isn’t so black and white. I’d agree that claims about the effects of climate change have been exaggerated and the media have been too alarmist. But I’m not skeptical about climate change. The evidence is there, it’s happening.
    The thing is, it isn’t necessarily the most important problem we face. I’d say overpopulation is closer to the mark, along with selfishness and greed that results in “the tragedy of the commons” affecting the seas, the rainforest, and everything. Climate change is just one adverse consequence, but let’s face it, if overpopulation results in a severe pandemic, we won’t have to worry about climate change any more.
    In the same vein and closer to home, if we don’t get our energy supply sorted out in the UK over the next few years, the lights will be going out. We’ll be on part-time power. Then people will be burning oil, wood, etc, anything they can get their hands on, and there will be considerable public anger that climate change caused government, and arguably scientists, to take their eye off the ball.
    As an aside, can I say that I particularly dislike hearing the phrase “climate change denier”, because I’ve seen it used in an attempt to discredit reasoned debate of what IMHO ought to be a wider subject. It smacks of the “racist” hurled at anybody who voices criticism of travellers.

  2. As a mechanical engineer involved in heating and air conditioning design services, I am interested in this question. While I understand the arguments being made implying climate change with rising temperatures and present observations, it is also my understanding that we are now at the end, based upon duration only, of the longest recent interglacial historical period known. There is also what I understand to be a known mechanism likely to be triggered by the decreasing concentration levels of salt in arctic waters being caused by dilution with current high levels of glacial melting. This could rapidly stop the thermo-haline density based circulatory flow of the oceans and thus modify the global heat transfer between equatorial and arctic regions. I also understand that there are current reductions in the thermo-haline density based circulation of the Gulf Stream as one element of the long series of flows of the total global circulatory pattern of the oceans. So why is the “scientific consensus” that there is nothing going on or potentially going on other than global warming without any braking mechanism possible other than stopping the release of carbon dioxide by shutting down society based upon current fossil fuel energy sources? What says absolutely that we are not in fact about to see a non linear transformation of the system driving forces that puts us into a period of glaciation? Or has this gone out of the arena of scientific discussion and into the realm of political correctness only? Why are we not ‘due’ based upon millions of years of glacial/inter glacial cycles to enter another glacial part of the cycle? What do we know about all of those past transitions from no or little arctic ice to the start of a new glacial cycle that says that this time is different and nothing can possibly happen but global warming without end? As a ‘non-scientist’ out of the pecking order, and retired to boot, I am unafraid of asking what you might wish to judge to be a ‘stupid question’. But can anyone provide a serious answer to it?


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