A new home for Climate Sock

Posted in Uncategorized on October 8th, 2011 by leo – Be the first to comment

When I set up Climate Sock in 2009, there was a lot to look at. No-one had worked through all the polls that had been published in the years up till then on public attitudes to the environment.

Since then, we’ve seen polls on politics, energy sources and supposed climate fatigue, and some international comparisons too.

But new polls aren’t published as often as I’d like, nor does opinion usually change all that quickly. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new things to write about on a regular basis while remaining within the boundaries of what people think about the environment.

So Climate Sock is moving, to become part of a new site. In Noise of the Crowd, I’ll be looking at interesting things about public opinion: not only about the environment, but including anything that’s surprising, counter-intuitive or adds to current new stories.

Climate Sock will continue to live in Noise of the Crowd. All the old posts and comments have been transferred across, and everything about the environment has the tag ‘Climate Sock’, which you can access on the left of the site.

When new and interesting data about the environment are published, I intend still to write new articles, building on what we’ve already seen. I hope that readers of Climate Sock will carry on finding things that interest you in the new site, including environment articles but perhaps also including other ones as well. The change will mean that the site will keep being updated with fresh articles, even when there’s not been anything new about the environment.

I always appreciate your comments and would love to hear what you think about the new site, and any suggestions about how I could improve it.

Before I go. Following the last post’s linkfest, I wanted to pick out a couple of old Climate Sock posts that I thought were more interesting than others.  If you’re new to the sites, they’re probably a good place to start.


We shouldn’t be spending too much energy worrying about ‘belief’ in climate change.


Climate change campaigners often target altruism when appealing to self-interest may be more effective.


While people want action to tackle climate change, they’re deeply suspicious of government involvement.


Nuclear power is seen to have some advantages over gas, coal and oil, but it’s still greeted with suspicion.


The UK Greens get many fewer votes nationally than UKIP and the BNP, but they’re in a much stronger position to win seat

Two years of Climate Sock

Posted in Bad polling, Climategate, Energy sources, Media, Politics on September 19th, 2011 by leo – 3 Comments

It’s been two years since a long day’s cycling in Andalucia produced the thought that a lot of unfounded speculation is spouted about public opinion on climate change. The idea was born of  a website about what people really think about the environment.

Who still cares about the climate?

In those two years, we’ve heard repeated claims that people are becoming less worried about climate change. The UEA email release – Climategate – has been blamed, though after trial may well have been innocent.

And despite some attempts to hype up the change in mood, opinion seemed to bounce back to near where it had been before.

So if it wasn’t UEA – or indeed Glaciergate – that changed people’s minds, perhaps it was the cold winters. And so perhaps the next one might do the same.

But on the other hand, maybe it was all down to the economy that had made climate change a relatively low priority.

Indeed perhaps all this is a misdiagnosis of people’s boredom with the argument between two rival camps. Just because they say they’re sick of the argument doesn’t mean they’re not worried about climate change.

Campaigns and politics

So all isn’t lost for climate change campaigners. People would even go along with higher environmental taxes in some situations (not that these are necessarily the answer). But making climate change about cute animals misses the mark, at least in the short term.

But there’s still work to do to show why climate change is a tangible environmental problem, though connecting with worries about an energy shortage doesn’t seem to be the answer.

We’ve seen the need to learn the lessons of professional communications campaigns, as well – perhaps – as from a couple of unexpected NGOs. And above all, campaigners need to avoid letting governments be seen as the only ones dealing with climate change.

Talking of politics, the 2010 election presented some interesting challenges for the major parties. We saw Caroline Lucas elected as a Green MP, and relatively strong prospects for the Greens to win more seats. Though outside Brighton, the last election wasn’t great for them, despite fighting some interesting battles.

In Australia, talking about climate change seems to have become ever more of a contact sport and was kept out of the general election, which yielded more challenges for the Greens. But despite the ferocity, it looks like climate change is still a major worry for Australians.

Energy and energy disasters

It’s been two years of environmental calamities that have caused only minor tremors on the polling charts.

The Gulf of Mexico spill wreaked environmental havoc but hardly revolutionised US attitudes to off-shore drilling. Fukushima also didn’t cause much of a stir in views of nuclear power, at least in the US and UK.

At least the nuclear disaster did remind us how much the nuclear industry like polling (a lot, and they really aren’t afraid to use it). Which is a little odd, because the best their polls ever show is nuclear being grudgingly accepted.

Good polls and bad polls

And the constant backdrop to all the numbers has been the twin frustrations of good polls being badly reported, and bad polls being unquestioningly reported.

Even the good guys sometimes do bad polls, and the way polls are reported can do a lot to fix the problem. But that doesn’t always happen and that’s why there’s still a need for nerds to check the data.

Thank you so much for reading and for your comments and suggestions. I’ll be announcing changes to Climate Sock soon, which I hope will provide the basis for more number crunching and opinion checking.

How worried are we really about energy security?

Posted in Energy sources on August 29th, 2011 by leo – 1 Comment

Last month we saw data on whether climate change or energy security is seen as more pressing.

The results were interesting. They suggested that people were more willing to reduce their energy consumption to help the environment than to protect the UK’s energy security; yet it also seemed that people wanted the government to prioritise protecting the energy supply over providing more environmentally friendly electricity.

It’s since been pointed out to me that the wording of the ‘personal responsibility’ question may have had a misleading influence. The option for energy security was phrased as ‘To conserve energy now to make sure the UK has enough in future’.

As was suggested to me, an interviewee might take issue with the implication that there are transferable units of electricity that can be used immediately or saved for later. Of course not using a unit of electricity today doesn’t mean that the unit will continue to be available tomorrow.

So perhaps my conclusion, that individuals see themselves as having a greater role in tackling climate change than they do in tackling energy security, was overstated.

And in fact another poll suggests exactly that.

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What difference has Fukushima made to attitudes to nuclear power?

Posted in Energy sources, Nuclear, U.S. on August 20th, 2011 by leo – 1 Comment

One of the idiosyncrasies of the nuclear industry is that they love polling. As a result we have a pretty good idea of what the world thinks of nuclear power, and how it’s changed over the years.

Charmingly, they’ve kept at the public polling after Fukushima, and so we can see how opinion’s changed after that, too. This is really useful because with an event this prominent, the media tend to assume that the public have been paying attention, and that public opinion must have undergone a dramatic shift.

Sometimes this is fair. The MPs’ expenses scandal did capture public attention and brought attitudes towards politicians even lower than they had been before.  But other high-profile media stories, like the UEA email release, came and went without having all that much impact on public opinion.

In the UK and US at least, Fukushima is looking like the latter kind of story, where a lot of media attention doesn’t lead to much of a change of attitudes.

It’s certainly had a huge amount of coverage. Compare on Google Trends for the UK the words “nuclear” and “news of the world”, the other major story of the last few months (before the riots, which dwarf the others):

So “nuclear” seems to have got more news coverage than “news of the world”, but been used slightly less in searches. We get something similar (with fewer hits) if we use “Fukushima” or “hacking”.

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Is keeping the lights on more important than stopping climate change?

Posted in Attitudes, Energy sources on July 24th, 2011 by leo – 3 Comments

How far people are willing to take personal action to prevent climate change is one of the big policy questions. When considering a major global issue like climate change, many people will consider that they cannot have an impact, and that they should leave it to the government, if indeed they think it’s worth tackling at all.

A new poll by ComRes tackles this question. Having been commissioned by Centrica, its focus is on domestic energy usage, and it suggests a tension between what people are doing now and what they might be willing to do in the future.

According to the poll, three quarters of UK adults have recently tried to reduce the amount of gas and electricity they use. The reasons given for these reductions are interesting:

That price should be top isn’t surprising, but I’m struck that nearly twice as many say they reduced their energy use to help the environment as say they did so to protect the UK’s energy supply.

This surprised me a little because polling I’ve seen in the past has shown that, as reasons for energy conservation, energy security is generally more compelling than climate change.

And we do in fact see something similar in a later question in this poll.

When we move away from what people are doing, and onto what they want the government to do, we get a different picture:

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Have Australians stopped caring about climate change?

Posted in Attitudes, Australia on July 9th, 2011 by leo – Be the first to comment

The latest annual poll by the Australian thinktank, the Lowy Institute, suggests a dramatic fall in concern about climate change. It’s usually a good rule that the more interesting a poll, is the less likely it is to be a good representation of public opinion, and the new Lowry poll has indeed been challenged.

But while some of the criticisms of the poll seem fair, I suggest that dismissing it would be a mistake.

At the heart of the debate is data that appear to suggest that Australians’ concern about climate change has plummeted in recent years. The same question has been used in the annual polls for several years, allowing a comparison of attitudes over time.

The resulting chart is this:

Which immediately suggests a dramatic fall in concern about climate change: from nearly 7 in 10 wanting action even at significant cost in 2006, to only 4 in 10 saying the same now.

The main challenge to the data has been on the basis of the structure of the question. Joseph Reser at Griffith University, has argued both that the length of the questions is a problem, and that the answer choices “contain multiple and emotional button-pressing matters and language”.

The result, he argues, is that the poll fails to measure the public’s understanding or perceptions of risk in an issue as complex as climate change. Significantly, it also appears to show a lower level of concern than is identified in other polls that individually examine different aspects of attitudes to the issue.

All of this seems fair. The question wording is indeed long, and it does contain some emotive language. But I don’t think that makes the result any less interesting or important.

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Greenpeace, the Taxpayers’ Alliance and Fathers 4 Justice

Posted in Attitudes on June 15th, 2011 by leo – 7 Comments

Some data tables need very little introduction.

One such appears in the Ashcroft poll, from a question about attitudes towards various NGOs. For clarity’s sake, I’ve grouped the responses into ‘support’ and ‘oppose’ in the table below:

You may draw your own conclusions, but here are a few of mine.

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Can the UK Greens win any more seats?

Posted in Politics on May 30th, 2011 by leo – 2 Comments

Now UK electoral reform for the Commons has been defeated, First Past the Post (FPTP) is with us for the foreseeable future. I was never convinced that Alternative Vote (AV) would be a game changer for smaller parties like the Greens, but FPTP is particularly bad for them.

There’s no doubt that FPTP exaggerates results. Below a certain share of the national vote, parties get fewer seats than they would under a PR system. Above that level, they get more.

Yet the UK Greens do have one MP, and they are in fact less hard done by under FPTP than the other UK-wide parties of similar size: the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the British National Party (BNP).

In the 2010 election, the Greens nationally won 286k votes (1.0%); UKIP won 920k (3.1%); and the BNP 564k (1.9%). Yet of the three, the Greens were the only party to win a seat, despite receiving the fewest votes (although this one seat was itself equivalent to only about one sixth of the seats they would have won under a fully proportionate system with that share of the vote).

So, why was this the case, and what does it say about the Greens’ prospects under FPTP?

To win a seat in a multi-way marginal, a party typically needs at least 30%. Caroline Lucas won Brighton Pavilion with 31% of the vote; the next target for the Greens, Norwich South, was won by the Lib Dems with 29%. Other Green targets were won with slightly higher proportions.

Yet, with a lower national share than UKIP and the BNP, explanation is needed for why the Greens were able to mobilise 31% in a particular constituency, while the others were not able to do so.

At least part of the answer is suggested by the huge poll conducted by Michael Ashcroft for the Tories.

A key source for this debate is the question on how likely respondents are to vote for particular parties. A response of 1 signifies that they will definitely not vote for that party, and 10 means that they will definitely vote for that party.

The proportions who say they are extremely likely (let’s say 9 or 10) to vote for each of the three parties is roughly what we’d expect: small, and similar to one another.

But the differences are very interesting when we look lower down the scale:

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One poll, two stories

Posted in Media on May 14th, 2011 by leo – 8 Comments

Climate change ‘more important than immigration’

Climate change should be a higher priority for the government than immigration, according to findings of a new poll revealed exclusively in Climate Sock. The results will delight environmental campaigners, who have long been calling for climate change to be taken more seriously as a political issue.

According to the poll, 46% more people think that climate change is an important issue in their life than say the same about immigration or asylum. The results will put pressure on the government, which was criticised last week by environmental leaders, who said it was failing to live up to its pledge to be the “greenest government ever”.

The findings will also put an end to doubts about the public’s trust in the work of climate scientists. Following the 2009 hacking and release online of emails from the world-leading Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, there was widespread speculation that public opinion was increasingly turning against the view that climate change was caused by human activity.

Any doubts now appear to have been overcome, with three in four of those surveyed by Ipsos MORI saying that they think human activity has a significant effect on the climate.

Welcoming the results, Eddard Stark, head of the environmental charity Climate Campaigners, said “The government can no longer hide behind the myth that the public have higher priorities. These results send a clear message: the country wants action to stop climate change, and it wants it now”.


Global warming? Bring it on!

Brits are looking forward to the effects of global warming, according to findings of a new poll revealed exclusively in Climate Sock. The results will delight observers who have long argued that environmental pressure groups routinely exaggerate the negative side of climate change.

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What can we learn from the latest claim of climate fatigue?

Posted in Attitudes, International on April 27th, 2011 by leo – 1 Comment

A new set of international data has just come out from Mori and prompted the Daily Mail to claim that “‘Britons are suffering from ‘global warming fatigue’”.

For loyal Mail readers, this won’t come as much of a surprise. A couple of months ago the Mail reported a poll that found agreement with climate science in the UK to be lower now than it’s been at any point since the polling began in 2006.

But then for those who read other papers, especially the Guardian, there’s been plenty to suggest that agreement with climate science is still high, and desire for action remains strong. If anything, we might have thought that it’s been growing in recent months.

So are the Mail twisting the facts to fit their expectations, or are they onto something?

In his analysis, Neil at Carbon Brief makes several valid criticisms of the Mail’s interpretation.

The poll asked respondents to identify their top three most important environmental issues, out of a list of 15. This is a long list to choose from, yet “global warming/climate change” was fourth in the UK (on 25%), itself ahead of other urgent and tangible issues like flooding and food supply.

A second point Neil makes is that respondents were asked about environmental issues facing their country “today”. So they are prompted to think both locally and also in terms of issues that are already having an impact. Many people might think that climate change will be an immense crisis in the future, but that its impact is so far relatively unimportant.

In this context perhaps it isn’t surprising that, for example, Indians expressed much greater relative concern about climate change (55% in India) than people in the UK did, since India is already experiencing impacts of climate change, with loss of water supply and flooding of low-lying islands in the Sunderbans. (That said, I’m still a bit surprised with how high this is in India. Perhaps the explanation is in the sample frame: the pollsters only seem to have found 16 people with low levels of education in India: 2% of the sample. They had to weight this up to 41% of the sample to fit with national demographics. I wonder how representative those 16 people really were of national attitudes to climate change among people with lower levels of education.)

To Neil’s points, we could add the criticism that a claim of ‘global warming fatigue’ would require a change in attitudes. This poll doesn’t purport to show any change in attitudes.

So there are good reasons to be wary about the Mail’s analysis.

But for all that, we shouldn’t dismiss entirely the conclusions.

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