And yet more climate change polling

The climate change polls are flowing almost as quickly as predictions of impending climate doom, with two more out today.

In the Newspoll survey reported in The Australian, confirmation of previous research showing that the overwhelming majority (84%) of people believe that climate change is occurring. Of these people, only 3% believe that it is not caused by human activity.

And further exploration of the issue of whether Australia should stall an emissions trading scheme until the major polluters agree to cut back, or proceed with Labor’s 2010 plan. Last week in the ACNielsen survey 19% wanted to wait, with Newspoll this week finding 23% support for that position (as is usual for this subject, some big age differences with the 18-34 group much stronger on the issue than the 50+).

The Climate Institute has only a partial report of their survey, which asked what the federal opposition should do, with the three options being start a carbon emissions trading scheme in 2010, start before 2010, and start in 2012 or later.

The results are confusingly presented, with the press release stating both that 69% of Australians support the on or before 2010 options, and that 80% support the federal governemnt’s policy, even though there wasn’t obviously a question directly asking that. The latter is more consistent with the other polling, however.

Unfortunately, none of the pollsters have yet explored whether voters understand that Australia reducing emissions would make a very minor difference in itself, and won’t save the barrier reef or the Murray River or any of the other justifications commonly given.

32 thoughts on “And yet more climate change polling

  1. “whether voters understand”

    Obviously, not.

    Or perhaps, notwithstanding the propaganda from the denialists, they understand only too well.

    Or perhaps, as Brecht put it, the solution is

    “To dissolve the people
    And elect another?”

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  2. I guess that when most Australians give to a charity they understand that they haven’t solved world poverty.

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  3. “I guess that when most Australians give to a charity they understand that they haven’t solved world poverty.”

    True, but at least if you give to an honest and competent charity it will make a difference to someone.

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  4. Well their advertising has certainly worked with you.

    My point is that your $10 is but the tiniest fraction of their funds – it’s just your tiny contribution, which along with everybody else’s will add up to something worthwhile. (And let’s hope the richer people will give more – because they can.)

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  5. But if I thought I was the only person giving, I would not do it. I may as well give my money to the endless Brunswick St beggars.

    I’m not advocating any position in this debate, but where there is a collective action problem not acting until it is resolved is a logical position to hold.

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  6. I can see the parable of The Good Samaritin was wasted on you Andrew. Just because others who should act, don’t, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

    Even if our emissions are a small part of the total, they still contribute to the damage, and we, being comparatively rich, can fairly easily make a start on reducing them, and thereby play our part in reducing the likely harm global warming will cause the poorest in the world. Aren’t you ignoring the moral implications of acting / not acting?

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  7. Russell

    We are still waiting for the Cwth Treasury to provide estimates of how much the ETS will cost the Austalian economy in lost income, lost employment, higher prices etc. When we have that information, we can then ask the question – is the teeny weeny reduction in global emission coming from Australia reducing our emissions worth the $$billions it is likely to cost us?

    There is a moral implication of signifciantly reducing my children’s future living standards for no tangible reduction in emissions.

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  8. Johno – I agree that moral questions aren’t simple and that if the scheme were to impose such costs as to result in really significant reductions in living standards, we would have to include that in making a decision.

    But, the argument I hear in the media is that we shouldn’t do ANYTHING unless China, India etc do something. I’m assuming that no Australian government would propose drastically lowering our standard of living with some go-it-alone scheme.

    I think Andrew is too narrowly limiting his consideration to a “collective action problem” to produce a justification for not acting at all. We know what needs to be done and we should start heading in that direction.

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  9. Russell – But the reason we are getting a compulsory domestic scheme is that nobody believes that purely voluntary action will be enough, because too many people calculate that their bike-riding and light-turning-off would not make much of a difference.

    If individuals want to act on their own, fine. But collective action problems need to be carefully thought through. The dominant view seems to be that others are more likely to act if we do first. But the alternative view that without the threat of others not cutting their gases, and so causing more weather problems in India and China etc, those countries won’t cut their emissions seems to me to be equally plausible.

    I’m no expert on these matters, but the dominant view is not self-evidently correct to me.

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  10. Andrew, I agree that “collective action problems need to be carefully thought through” and I don’t know enough about the whole complicated business (who is going to read a green paper of 500 pages?). A knowledgeable-seeming person could probably convince me that we could be reducing emissions in other ways (mandatory targets or feed-in tariffs, energy efficiency programs … God knows) without pioneering the world’s best ETS scheme.

    It just seems that we should/could be doing more than we are (practically nothing) and that the experts that convinced the previous and present governments that an ETS is the way to go are probably right. But I don’t know. I just object to the idea that we should do nothing because our emissions are a small part of the total. We’re a rich country and if we’re making a mess, we should set about improving how we do things. That’ll take individual and collective decisions.

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  11. I don’t see it as useless or as charity. I see it as a small scale experiment that will provide an existence proof against the Johnos and other scare-mongers of the world that disagree with most economic analysis which shows that it will be neither especially difficult nor expensive to implement (no doubt far less than the huge amount of really useless middle-class welfare Australians are so fond of). Once this existence proof exists, the probability of other bigger countries following suit is far greater, so there may well be some overall effect.

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  12. Andrew, such questions might reveal something but as with other religious views, I suspect most people would freely concede the easily testable propositions but cling to the more abstract ones. In other words, I predict most would subscribe to the demonstration effect hypothesis. It makes people feel good while pretending to be atheists. The real test will come if Copengagen yields nothing tangible and Asia is still booming away. Even then, as I’ve said before, a low carbon price won’t have much of an impact either way especially if tradeable sectors are sheltered. .

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  13. These issues would be debated in a more helpful manner if the working press was not overwhelmingly and uncritically backing the ALP line.

    As the science of the situation, it is possible to accept that there is global warming without accepting that this is something that we need to be alarmed about – there are plusses and minuses in a small amount of warming.

    It is also possilble to accept that there is warming without also accepting that the major cause is human activity. This means that even the biggest efforts to reduce warming may not have any impact. Lomborg for example has not ruled out warming but thinks that our efforts should be put into strategies to live with it, not into strategies that are supposed to reverse the process.

    Finally, in Australia, it is a matter of simple arithmetic that nothing we do will make a measurable difference a decade or two down the line as the Indians, Chinese and others press on with economic development regardless of emmissions (even assuming that these are the cause of warming).

    None of the above detracts from the case to make more efficient use of resources and minimise adverse impacts, but that always made sense, regardless of climate change.

    The problem with the proposed scheme is that it will mobilize every interest group in the land to get benefits or protection of various kinds, so the ecology of democracy will be heavily polluted with no detectable benefits for the natural environment.

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  14. PS People who are concerned about the suffering masses in the Third World should note that the push to biofuels has jacked up the price of food which is heavily impacting on the poorest people in the poorest nations. They are already suffering from western efforts to “save the planet”.

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  15. Rafe,

    it’s possible to accept Jesus will come down and save us too, it just isn’t very likely. I’m sure if Bangladeshies had a good education system (and every other group living mainly on flood plains), most of them would be extremely worried, and with exceptionally good reason. Also — the media isn’t completely in favor of the ALP’s position, don’t you read the Australian?

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  16. Spiros
    You asked the obvious question about how do I know it will be $$ billions when we haven’t seen the Treasury estimates yet and I should have explained in my earlier blog.
    I’ve done enough economic modeling to know that estimates of the impact of the ETS will have to be in the $billions to be credible. Australia has a $1031 billion economy. Anything less than $1 billion would be less than 0.1% of GDP. While the government is likely to pressure Treasury to be conservative in their estimates, the estimates still have to be big enough to be believable.

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  17. Conrad
    Could you point to the economic analysis that suggests an ETS will be neither difficult nor expensive to implement?
    (I’m more than happy to join you in the fight to get rid of middle class welfare.)

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  18. “Could you point to the economic analysis that suggests an ETS will be neither difficult nor expensive to implement?”

    See Stern.

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  19. Rafe – interesting to see you cross sides to argue with the Greens and lefties et al. that biofuels will increase food prices for the poor. Try typing into Google: daschle food fuel
    for an interesting article by Tom Daschle in Foreign Affairs which shows that the subject is at least debateable.

    Meanwhile we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Doha ‘Development’ Round of talks has collapsed.

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  20. Johno,

    there are a fair few estimates floating around, and yes, 1-2% of GDP is going to run into the billions. I don’t see that is a big cost, especially because we get lots of freebies back that are never entered into the equation (i.e., they should be subtracted from these amounts) — like not having to deal with asshole governments in the middle East. How much do you think our support of the US in these wars costs? Asian countries (especially China and India) would have the additional bonus of reducing pollution, which is currently so bad it affects rainfall, public health, and so on (even Australia would benefit slightly from this). Again, I’ve never seen this entered into the equation, but things like rainfall are _huge_ in a world of ever increasing food prices, and I think there is little dispute that particulates (mainly from burnt fuel) reduce rainfall. Thus, I don’t even believe the 1-2% figures, since these things are ignored.

    Incidentally, I know for a lot of people billions sounds like a big number, but as a comparison, Australia’s baby bonus runs to almost a billion a year, and that has essentially no benefit at all (I’m sure you can name a thousand other taxes). I know which I’d rather.

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  21. Spiros
    You nominated The Stern Review as an economic analysis of the impact of climate change. I have little faith in Stern for the reasons outlined by the Productivity Commission (see http://www.pc.gov.au/research/staffworkingpaper/sternreview Apologies for not linking as I don’t know how to set up a link:-( )
    As the Commission notes, Stern uses a high estimate of temprature increase and very pessimistic assumptions about the damage caused by global warming. Thus his costs are at the high end and he doesn’t consider the impact of lower costs. If the costs of climate change are lower this would favour a policy approach of adaption to warmer tempratures, with less focus on reducing emissions.
    Stern also uses an unusually low discount rate which tends to escalate the present value of future costs and thereby elicit urgency in mitigation measures. A more conventional discount rate would reduce the sense of urgency to act.

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  22. johno, Stern is not the final word, but you ask for an economic analysis, and that’s what he did. As for whether his estimates are pessimistic, on the contrary, the latest science suggests Stern underestimated

    — how much carbon is and will be pumped into the atmosphere

    — the strength of the causal link from carbon to temperature

    — the flow on effects from temperature to other aspects of climate.

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  23. Spiros
    Can you provide references for the latest science that suggests Stern underestimated the amount of carbon being emitted, the causal link between carbon and temperature and the flow on effects from temperature to other aspects of climate?

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  24. The last paragraph raises the issue of other environmental “catastrophes” like the Great Barrier Reef and the Murray-Darling. These need serious discussion – one that has started, I note, at http://www.climatechangetriage.net. More debate on our actions and spending of taxpayers’ money (like mine) is needed — but urgently

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