(February 7, 2013) Public opinion won’t change as long as temperatures don’t.
This article first appeared in the National Post.
Question: How do people decide whether global warming is for real?
Answer: They poke their noses outside their doors or watch the weather report on television. If they’re reminded that the weather has been unseasonably warm of late, the public tends to fret over dire consequences of global warming; if the weather has been on the cool side, the public tends to scoff at the fear mongering. In polls on global warming, Gallup data shows a swing of almost 10% for each degree Celsius that one year differs from another.
This finding and others appear in The influence of national temperature fluctuations on opinions about climate change in the U.S. since 1990, a University of British Columbia study published this week in Climatic Change. The findings explain why governments, environmentalists, foundations, the media, universities, renewable energy multinationals and myriad others have so little to show for their $80-billion-dollar-plus, decades-long efforts to persuade the public that climate change will be calamitous — most Westerners do not fear climate change. Those billions — whether spent in studies, public relations campaigns, or other forms of propaganda trumpeting the hottest climate ever — can be blown away by a short snowstorm or a lowly back-porch thermometer that refuses to rise. While many factors — political ideology, age and education among them — influence what the public believes on global warming, the single biggest factor in a change in public opinion is an individual’s experience with temperature, which the authors of the study believe could account for about half of the change.
Our thermometers simply haven’t been rising. According to a study last month by NASA’s James Hansen, Al Gore’s mentor, temperatures have been “flat for the past decade.” According to the U.K.’s Meteorological Office, every bit Al Gore’s equal in alarmism, the temperature standstill has lasted 15 years and, its revised models say, may extend to 20. No wonder public opinion hasn’t rallied to the alarmist cause.
For governments to muster the courage they need to impose carbon taxes or other unpopular measures, public opinion will need to swing dramatically to boost the number who worry that global warming threatens the planet — say by 20% or 30%. That change in public opinion would happen if temperatures rose by two or three degrees Celsius, assuming the study’s formula of a near-10% increase per degree Celsius holds.
But what is the chance of that, when temperatures have risen only about one-half of 1C in each of the previous three centuries, and not at all so far in the 21st century? Alarmists will need to somehow up their game if they are to make progress in scaring the public into action.
But how? Media coverage of global warming, which also increases with temperature, can hardly become more favourable. “When mean temperatures are warmer than normal,” the study states, “the major agenda-setting newspapers tend to publish more opinion articles expressing either support for the scientific consensus on climate change, concern about climate change, or arguments for climate action.”
Since 1990, for example, 86% of all opinion pieces that The New York Times has published on global warming have agreed with the conventional wisdom, compared to only 6% that disagreed. During one season, The New York Times published no articles at all that disagreed. USA Today in some seasons also published no articles that disagreed — 100% of its articles agreed. Global warming alarmists can hardly expect more slavish support from the media in influencing the climate change debate, short of putting rare dissenters (notably The Wall Street Journal in the U.S. and National Post in Canada) out of business.
Neither can alarmists expect more slavish support from environmentalists, the foundations that finance them, and scientists who need to toe the government line on global warming in order to be funded.
This study, then, will deeply discourage the global warming elites, and leave them with ironic results. Before governments can get the public support they need to attempt to control the weather of the future, they must first control the weather of today. Look outside — governments can’t do it.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute and the author of The Deniers.
For Lawrence Solomon’s take down of the claim that there’s a scientific consensus on climate change, see 97% cooked stats.
This article was first published by the National Post.