Social scientists can be a weird lot sometimes. The latest round of weirdness comes from the Lowy Institute, whose 2008 poll was released today, 8 weeks after the polling concluded. The official line on the climate change questions is that, “Economic considerations overtook tackling climate change as the most important foreign policy goal, but climate-related issues topped the list of threats to Australia”.
But you’d have to be employed at the Opposition Organ to take that kind of analysis at face value
A poll like this is always an expression of a couple of things: the linguistic frames of the pollsters (content), and the ‘headline zeitgeist’ (timing).
Some of the questions stink of redundant Rat-era push-polling. How else could you account for the inclusion of the question: “Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.” The Lowy pollsters can’t even point to Climate Tragic Michael Costa to justify this anymore. Is this duplicity or just plain laziness? Why eschew questions emissions trading design, permit allocation options to low income households, transitions to sectors doomed in a carbon constrained world, renewable energy targets or any number of other questions relevant to 2008 for this crap?
With ‘Teh Global Economic Crisis in the Headlines’, it’s hardly surprising that given a choice between teh economy and teh climate, the vague option for a more gradual phase in of policies swallowed up some 8% of the respondents from a preference for a more drastic response:
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
Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs:
These kind of fluctuations need to be put in a broader context. As George Wilkenfeld reminds us:
Public concerns about the risks of global warming seem to peak at roughly decade intervals. Few will remember the ‘Toronto target’ of 1988 (to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions to 80 per cent of the 1988 level by 2005) and its endorsement by the Hawke government in 1989. The next peak in public interest was in the leadup to the November 1997 negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The issue then abated, largely due to the anti-Kyoto stance of the Howard government and, after September 2001, the emergence and political amplification of terrorism as a more immediate threat.
Public concern surged again in late 2006 on the strength of record droughts and an early start to the bushfire season, reinforced by the publication of the Stern Review in October 2006 and the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February 2007. The IPCC report confirmed the linkage between human greenhouse gas emissions and changes in the global climate, and the Stern Review concluded that the costs and risks of timely action to reduce emissions would be far lower than the costs of responding to massive climate change.
One of the only interesting results from the poll is that young people, aged 18-24 are most likely to be willing to pay more for electricity ‘if it helped solve climate change’. The amount needed to upgrade supply infrastructure and generation capacity over the coming decades is small change from a financial bailout indeed (several billion), but, as Turnbull is all too aware, there’s still an awful lot of gains to be made on energy efficiency first.
Update: Sam Roggeveen, editor of the Lowy blog responds.