October 12, 2011

Theater of Operations

Global War on Disinformation

Climate Change Opinion:
Cause is Human — by Country

Proportion responding 'yes' when asked,
Temperature rise is part of global warming or climate change.
Do you think rising temperatures are … a result of human activities?
(Wikipedia, 18 January 2010)

Vocal Minority vs Silent Majority

George Marshall (1964)

Researchers in Australia found that these [media echo-chambers have] created what they call a “false consensus” effect around climate change, which led both sides to believe that their opinion was more common than it actually was.
[Because] the loud and very vocal climate change deniers were also heard far into the mainstream media, both sides tended to hugely overestimate their numbers, guessing them to make up a quarter of the population.
In fact they made up less than 7%.

When people misread the social norm in this way, it can lead them to suppress their own views, thus widening the divide and further reinforcing the false consensus — and at its most extreme, creating a society in which the majority of people keep silent because they fear that they are in the minority.
This process, known as pluralistic ignorance, helps to explain the extreme polarization around key markers of political identity such as abortion, gun control, and, increasingly, climate change.
(p 28)

[While] three-quarters of Americans still trust climate scientists as a source of information on global warming, they are nearly as inclined to trust television weather forecasters who are greatly less qualified as scientists but have a far more friendly, familiar, and approachable public profile.
Unfortunately … only half of television weathercasters surveyed [in 2010] believed that climate change is occurring and more than a quarter believed that it is a “scam.”
(p 117)

(Don't Even Think About It, 2014)

Stephan Lewandowsky (1948)

Winthrop Professor in Psychology, University of Western Australia

In Australia … the number of people who deny that climate change is happening is around 5% or 6% of the population.
[If] you then ask [those 5%] how many people they think [share] their opinion, their response is … about 50%.
[This] is called a false consensus effect [and] is usually indicative of a distortion in the media landscape.

[If people] are inflating their self-importance, that [is an indication that] the media [are] not doing their job properly.

(Attitudes to climate change, Science Show, ABC Radio National, 24 November 2012)


Public Opinion About Climate Change — Australia

Public Opinion About Climate Change — United States
The Expert Consensus on Climate Change

Science and the Public

Science and Politicians



Would you like to know more?

Public Opinion on Climate Change: United States

Perception of Scientific Consensus

Most Americans do not perceive that there is a scientific consensus on the need for action on climate change or global warming. …
[In 2009:
  • 38% of Americans] said scientists [thought] the problem [was] urgent and well enough [understood] to take action.
  • [43% thought] that scientists’ views [were] pretty evenly divided [and]
  • [17%] said scientists [thought it was] not an urgent problem. …

In the average of 16 countries, a majority — 51% (13 points higher than for Americans) — said that most scientists think the problem is urgent and enough is known to take action …

Not surprisingly those who do not perceive this consensus are less likely to perceive global warming as a serious threat. …

[Responses as to whether most] scientists agree that climate change is even occurring [have ranged from: 59% (2010) to 39% (May 2011)] saying that there is such agreement. …
{[In 2011, only] 13% said that 81-100% of climate scientists believe climate change is occurring …}

[Public] perceptions of “a lot of disagreement” among scientists may reflect the amount of publicity given to debate as compared to majority consensus and the conclusions of collective scientific bodies.
(p 2-3, italics added)

Effect of Greater Information and Perception of Scientific Consensus

[Willingness] to take action in regard to climate change rises with greater levels of information and greater perception of a scientific consensus on the issue.
(p 5)

In June 2005 … 76% of Americans favored taking some steps to address global warming [— however,] only 34% favored taking steps with significant costs.
[When asked] to assume that
[An overwhelming majority of scientists] have concluded that global warming is occurring and poses a significant threat …
[—] those willing to take steps with significant costs rose 22 points to 56%.
(p 6)

Assessments Of Other Leading Countries’ Role

Most Americans regard China as the worst offender in harming the global environment, while most other nations blame the United States.
Americans retain a large amount of trust in their own country to protect the environment, while Germany has the best ratings globally.

(p 13)

Perception of Climate Change as a Problem or Threat

[In 2010,] a large majority of Americans [said] that global warming or climate change [was a serious problem (70%)] or a threat [over the next ten years (75%).]
[However,] this majority has been declining over the last few years, so that American concern is now lower than the global average.
Large majorities believe that human activity plays a role in climate change.
However, Americans do not perceive that there is a scientific consensus on the need for urgent action on climate change and those who do not perceive this consensus are less likely to perceive climate change as a serious threat.
A large majority think that they will be personally affected by climate change eventually, but only a minority thinks that they are being affected now, contrary to views in most other countries.
Americans tend to underestimate the level of concern among other Americans. …

US concern [about climate change] is now lower than in most other countries.
[In 2010] 70% of Americans thought that global warming was a threat (37% a critical threat) …
{[By comparison, in 2006,] 85% of Americans said that global warming would be a threat over the next ten years, with 46% saying that it would be a critical threat. …
In China — the largest producer of greenhouse gasses — an average of 93% of respondents said that climate change was serious, with 41% saying it was very serious.}
[Of] those polled across twenty-two countries an average of 84% said the problem was serious, with 53% saying it was very serious.

Role of Human Activity

[In June 2010, 74% of Americans said they believed] the world’s temperature has increased over the past 100 years …
[Of those who thought temperatures were rising, 75% thought] that people [had] contributed to the [increase.]
(p 1)

Perceptions of the Effect of Climate Change

Globally, Americans are among the least convinced that climate change is substantially harming people in their country now.
[In 2009, 34% of Americans] said that climate change was affecting people in the US at the time …
In the average of all sixteen countries polled, 59% said that people are being harmed now …
(p 3)

[Respondents were] asked a series of questions that began:
If climate change is left unchecked worldwide, how much do you think climate change will affect each of the following in our country?
Large majorities believed climate change would affect the following factors “some” or “a lot”:

  • the price of food and other essential goods (76%),
  • likelihood of natural disasters, like droughts or floods (73%),
  • rainfall and available water resources (73%),
  • the coastline (73%),
  • the types of animals and plants that can live there (72%) …
  • the types of food produced (72%) [and]
  • peoples’ need to move their homes to different locations [56%. …]

[Only 23% of Americans believed climate change] would be more harmful to poor countries [than rich ones.]

Readiness to Take Action

[In 2010 77% of Americans thought] that addressing climate change should be a priority.
{[In 2009, 53% thought it] "should be given priority, even if it causes slower economic growth and some loss of jobs."}
However, in most cases less than a majority of Americans give it top priority or place the highest level of urgency on it, and this … appears to be declining.
Readiness to take action is higher among those who have more information about climate change and who perceive a scientific consensus on the need for action.
Americans tend to underestimate how ready other Americans are to support taking action. …

[Polls] consistently find that a large majority favors taking [some] action, but usually less than a majority chooses the option of taking the most urgent form of action.
(p 4)

Willingness to Accept Increased Energy Costs

To motivate changes in energy usage, Americans are willing to increase the cost of energy that causes climate change.
[In 2009, 62% said they] would accept increased economic costs equal to just under $20 a month.
Majorities also favor requiring increasing fuel efficiency of automobiles and reducing subsidies on private transportation even if this increases the cost to the consumer.
The idea of raising taxes on such forms of energy meets with mixed responses; however, support becomes high if respondents are told that the revenues of such a tax will be explicitly earmarked to address the problem of climate change, or will be offset with tax reductions.
[In 2007, 79% of Americans believed] that it will be necessary for people to change their lifestyle in order to reduce their production of climate changing gasses.
However there is also optimism that there will be economic benefits from the changes that will come with increasing energy efficiency.

(p 6)

Effect of Perceived Scientific Consensus

Those who perceive a scientific consensus on the need for action on climate change show a greater readiness to accept increased energy costs. …
[When] compared to [fifteen other countries] Americans' views were considerably more correlated with their views of the scientific consensus.
(p 8)

Reducing Reliance on Oil and Coal

As a means of addressing climate change, a large majority of Americans favor reducing reliance on oil and coal by

  • limiting the construction of coal-fired power plants [64% — 2009],
  • creating tax incentives to encourage alternative energy sources [84% — 2010],
  • requiring automakers to increase fuel efficiency [67% — 2010],
  • requiring more energy efficient home construction and appliances [2010],
  • increasing the availability of public transportation [80% — May 2011],
  • installing bike lanes [77% — May 2011] and
  • making changes in zoning to reduce the need for transportation [57%.]

(p 9)

Other Forms of Government Action

To address the problem of climate change majorities of Americans support the government

  • treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant [77% — 2010],
  • limiting climate changing gasses from business [76% — June 2010], and
  • preserving or expanding forested areas [75% — 2009.]

Assessing the US Government

Americans give their government a low rating [3.84 / 10] in terms of how high a priority it places on addressing climate change.
A modest majority [52%] thinks that the government should give climate change a higher priority than it does.

(p 10)

Support for Multilateral Action

[In May 2011, 66% of Americans supported] participation in an international treaty to limit climate change.
[In 2008, 61% of Americans said] that multilateral cooperation on climate change is very important, but [gave] the United States a mediocre rating [C-] in advancing this objective.
[In 2010, 62% of Americans believed] there should be a new international institution to monitor compliance with climate treaty obligations.

Participation in Climate Change Treaty

[In 2009, 73%] of Americans said the US should take action even without an agreement.
(p 11)

Role of Developing Countries

[In 2007, 75%] of Americans — along with [an average of 59% of] people in developing and developed countries alike — [thought] that developing countries have a responsibility to limit their greenhouse-gas emissions in an effort to deal with climate change.
There is also a consensus [across both developed and developing nations (73%)] that developed countries should provide aid as part of a deal to help developing countries commit to limiting their emissions.
If developing countries refuse to limit their emissions, [68% of] Americans think the United States should nonetheless proceed to limit its own emissions. …

[However, the] US Senate has taken the position that the United States should not do so.
(p 12)

(US Opinion on Climate Change, Chapter 13a, Public Opinion on Global Issues, Council on Foreign Relations, 30 November 2011)

Science And The Public

There is a controversy over what the countries of the world, including Australia, should do about the problem of global warming.
I’m going to read you three statements.
Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view.
(Hansen, 2011, p7)
United States
(similar questions — CCGA, 2010, p 38)
Global warming is a serious and pressing problem.
We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.
The problem of global warming should be addressed, but its effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost.24%40%42%
Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.7%19%26%
Don't know/Refused1%0%3%

Would you like to know more?

Science And Politicians


  1. Oreskes, Naomi; Conway, Erik.  Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2010.
    [Fred Singer] concluded [in reference to the SAR Summary for Policymakers},
    The mystery is why some insist in making it into a problem, a crisis, or a catastrophe — 'the greatest global challenge facing mankind.' …
    Wigley and his coauthors [responded:]
    We do not know the origin of this statement — it does not appear in any of the IPCC documents. …
    Singer was putting words into other people's mouths — and then using those words to discredit them.
    (p 206)
    Greenpeace (2010):
    Singer fabricated quotes from [Bert] Bolin, attempting to suggest that he had changed his mind about climate change, saying
    Bolin remained adamant that there has been some human influence on climate, but conceded that ‘man-made increases in temperature are so small as to be barely detectable’.
    Bolin, the chair of both the World Meteorological Organisation and the IPCC for nine years [released] a press statement rejecting the allegations as ‘inaccurate and misleading’.
    (p 7)
  2. Freudenburg, William.  Climate change scepticism — its sources and strategies, The Science Show, ABC Radio National, 3 April 2010.
    [The] difference is if whenever anyone comes up with a finding that global warming is more serious than we thought before, that gets attacked by some of the sharpest knives in the drawer.
    And if there is someone who comes up with a new finding and says "hey, it's not so bad", that person gets invited to the annual convention of whatever association it is to give a luncheon speech and to get praise for his path-breaking new research.


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