There were signs of this in an August Morgan poll, but its finding that the proportion of respondents believing that climate concerns were exaggerated had doubled since 2006 was ambiguous. As I suggested at the time, this could be a reaction to the relentless and seemingly hyperbolic predictions of doom over that time, rather than showing any real gains by the sceptics.
One of the Lowy questions does however suggest that the sceptics, while still being a small minority, are gaining ground. The proportion of respondents agreeing with the proposition that until we are sure climate change is a problem we should not take costly actions has nearly doubled, from 7% to 13%.
Despite passionate debates about climate science among activists (please don’t re-run them in comments), this isn’t the main political issue. Rather, that is how much pain the electorate is prepared to suffer to solve a problem that an overwhelming majority (76% in the latest Lowy survey) say is real.
Several Lowy questions suggest that their pain threshold is going down. The proportion agreeing with the proposition that we should start acting now even with significant costs has dropped 20 percentage points since 2006, to 48%. The proportion saying that tackling climate change is a very important foreign policy goal is down 19 percentage points to 56% (this wasn’t a question requiring trade-offs; respondents could nominate all ten issues are ‘very important’ if they wanted to). And the proportion saying that climate change is an ‘critical’ threat to Australia’s national interests over the next ten years is at 52% 16 percentage points lower than in 2006.
What’s driving these changes?
Partly there seem to be altered beliefs about what’s happening. The responses on whether it is a definite problem and whether it is a critical threat seem consistent with that conclusion.
But my main hypothesis is that as we get closer to an ETS, and as more people make the move from thinking about climate change reduction policy as a long-term ‘sounds sensible’ policy to thinking about it as someting that will affect their lives soon, there is a stronger focus on the negatives.
I argued in a series of posts last year that the sacrifices people were prepared to make to reduce carbon emissions were well below what was actually planned (and massively below what the climate change alarmists believe is necessary). These polls and the latest Lowy survey are political signs of what might happen when it comes time to pay for the ETS.