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Australia: more skeptics than believers, and few really care about “Climate change”

Posted By Joanne Nova On February 9, 2014 @ 6:42 pm In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

First up, despite the endless repetition in the media that the science is settled and the evidence is overwhelming, the latest CSIRO survey shows 53% of the Australian population don’t agree that “humans are causing climate change”. When the ABC gives 50% of its climate budget and time to skeptical arguments we will know it is fulfilling its charter. Right now, the ABC serves less than half the population. Secondly, even with 47% of the population agreeing that humans are “largely” causing climate change, many of these people still don’t think climate change will be that bad. The issue “Climate Change” ranks 14 out of 16 general concerns, and among environmental concerns a pathetic 7th out of 8. It seems a large section of the 47% think the warming will be minor, or even beneficial. The CSIRO has done another clumsy survey, the fourth in a series, still not learning that inaccurate survey terms make the results of most questions meaningless. The unmistakable bottom line from this is that only a minority of Australians think that humans are changing the climate in an important way. Most Australians are more concerned about their health, their income, their job, water shortages, or real pollution. They are more concerned about just about anything the researchers can name. Somehow this confuses the researchers. For perspective, a recent UK study showed that 63% of British people are skepticsthat storms and floods are probably man-made.

“Climate Change” is a useless survey term

The term “climate change” is guaranteed to produce confounded results. It’s is so obviously so, that questions ought be asked about those who design such loaded surveys (yes, I mean you Zoe Leviston and colleagues). Are they trying to find out what Australians’ think, or trying to generate meaningless statements? Are they afraid to ask meaningful questions, because they fear they won’t get the “right” answers? How do you define “climate change”? Is it (a) what the climate has done for 4.5 billion years, or (b) code for “man-made global warming”? Since the UN actually defines “climate change” to mean b, despite the literal and common sense definition of a,  most sane respondents could answer both a and b above and be right both times. Asking any question about “climate change” becomes an exercise in guessing what definition the respondent was using. Plus there is that other factor — did anyone specify a time period in the question? Even in the literal meaning, there hasn’t been much climate change in the last 15 years. Is climate change happening or not? I can scientifically answer yes, no and maybe and be right depending on the timeframe.

How about “human caused” climate change?

At least the surveyors did ask some better questions. In the end,  7.6% though climate change was not happening at all, and 38.8% thought it was caused by natural forces. So that makes 46.4% of the Australian population that are outright skeptics.  (The ABC serves this half of the population how?) 6.3% say they have no idea at all, and that leaves the group of believers at 47.3% — only 1% more than outright skeptics.

Figure 2 Typological breakdown of thoughts about the causes of climate change (N = 5219)

As we’ll see below, 80% of Australians chose not to voluntarily pay money for “the environment”, 40% of people who did act on climate change did it because they were financially better off, most people don’t rank “climate change” as a concern, and in 2013 only 16% of all Australians were “very worried”. Despite this, the lead researcher Zoe Leviston thinks that “climate change denial” is overrated. What her surveys show is that only 1 in 6 people believe the full propaganda message as pushed by the UN, the Dept of Climate Change, the Climate Commission, the ABC, and Fairfax media. Don’t expect a CSIRO or a Fairfax activist to report that.

Another finding from the CSIRO survey is that people tended to underestimate how widely accepted climate change is in the community. “Climate change denial, or contrarism, or whatever you want to call it, is overrated,” Dr Leviston said.

Denier is another loaded ambiguous term. Sometimes all skeptics are called “deniers”, sometimes it means a subgroup, usually it’s just a petty insult, so a sentence with two ambiguous terms (climate change and denial) is an elastic political fantasy, not a scientific statement. If the researchers or Hannam wrote in accurate words they could have said that less than half the population believe global warming is caused by man. They could also have said there are more skeptics than  believers. Instead they use vague terms to convey the opposite. This is not science, nor is it reporting. Does CSIRO think it serves the public with this fog? Given how far both had to go to avoid the obvious conclusions,  the purpose of the survey appears to be to report that “deniers” are a small fringe group. It’s a lobbyist’s aim. A popularity score is very important to group-thinkers. They need to know which way the herd is going. For those with political (not scientific aims), it’s important and to keep the faithful following the dogma so they need constant reminders that they are on the big team, even if they aren’t. It’s all in the spin.

Basically Australians are not worried about “climate change”

General Concerns Average Rank   Environmental Concerns Average Rank
1. Health 4.96 1. Water Shortages 3.72
2. The cost of living 5.09 2. Pollution 3.91
3. Employment 6.71 3. Water Quality 3.91
4. Education 6.92 4. Drought 4.5
5. The Australian economy 7.04 5. Deforestation 4.52
6. Crime and justice 7.76 6. Household waste 4.69
7. Electricity prices 8.03 7. Climate change 5.08
8. Affordable housing 8.31 8. Salinity 5.67
9. Water 8.38
10. The natural environment 9.63
11. Government and politics 9.91
12. Immigration 10.02
13. Drug problems 10.43
14. Climate change  10.53
15. Population 10.96
16. Terrorism 11.34


Australians are not active environmentalists

Only 20% of the population voluntarily give any money, even $2, to “protect the environment”. It’s pretty safe to say that if the carbon-tax were made optional, it would fail dismally. The 80% who said they had not given money to a group that aims to protect the environment are clearly not aware that they have, through their taxes, done exactly that. 82% of Australians don’t vote on the basis of environmental issues. 97% don’t belong to an environmental group. This is not a nation that wants what the Greens want.

Figure 6 Percentage of respondents engaging in community-based environmental behaviours (N = 5219)

It turns out half of those who say they have taken action for the environment are a fickle lot of unbelievers. The main priority for 43% of them was to save money. Another 21% said “a combination of reasons” which probably means, partly environmental and partly financial. If governments didn’t offer mass subsidies for “green” action, at least 40% of participants and maybe 50% would vanish immediately. And we wonder why the Greens vote fell at the last election?

Figure 8 Commonly stated reasons for engaging in pro-environmental behaviours (N = 3788)10

Australians just don’t think climate change will be that bad

The mystery of most Australians believing in climate change but not caring about it is easily solved. Even Australians who believe that humans are changing the climate don’t care, because they don’t think it will be that bad. In figure 10, it’s clear most Australians don’t believe the intensity of extreme weather events will increase much, and even less think the frequency will increase.

Figure 10 Expected future increases in intensity and frequency of events in respondents’ region (N = 5219)


 When it comes to temperature only 21% think it will rise by more than 1.5C in their region. These presumably are the hard-core believers. Most people think it will rise less, be the same or even be cooler, which explains why the care-factor is so low. Note that a later question asks what people mean by their region, which shows the folly of asking this question. Only 12% think of their region as meaning “Australia”, the rest are just thinking of their city or state. And given that climate models and professional modelers have no skill on any regional, state or local scale, it’s all blindfolded dart-throwing. The only correct answer to this is “don’t know”, and it wasn’t an option. Nine choices, and all of them wrong.

Figure 11 Perceived regional changes in temperature levels (N = 5290; N = 5219)14

On rainfall, clearly Australian’s are unmoved or confused. It’s fairly evenly split — nearly as many people think we’ll get more rain as think we’ll get less. They’re channeling the climate models. The shift in “alarm” propaganda from “more drought” to “more floods” has cost the alarmists credibility. A mere 12% think we’ll get more than a 15% change in rainfall, which can hardly be described as an extreme change.  How scary is 15% more rain? Not so much in the driest continent. Most Australians think rainfall will stay pretty much the same anyway.

Figure 12 Perceived regional changes in rainfall levels (N = 4274; N = 5219)

Over the last four years what we can see is the continuous shift from belief in the propaganda. Slowly but surely more people are moving away from “human induced climate change”. With the red line (“Not happening”) there is either an increase in people who think the climate never changes, or an increase in people who recognize that “climate change” is code for “man-made” change, and so they know they should answer “Not happening”.

Figure 18 Average change in the proportion of respondents endorsing opinions about the nature and causes of climate change: 2010–2013 (N = 2202)

Mysterious missing questions

Finally, several potentially useful questions asked in all the first three surveys was either dropped or not reported on. Were the answers just not the right message? Where is the original survey? Are the full results available? Last year, only 16% of people were “Very Worried” about climate change.

Figure 5 Levels of worry about climate change as a percentage of respondents [2013 CSIRO Report]

About 3% of the people who say Climate Change is not happening, also say they are very worried about climate change. So some people are not paying attention, or they think the survey is a joke…

In 2013 the CSIRO study also asked to rate “their level of support for the Federal Government’s carbon pricing scheme.” Which would be an extremely topical question given that the current government plans to remove the scheme, but it apparently it was not asked, or the results were no reported on. In 2013, 36% of people “strongly opposed” the carbon pricing policy. Only 9.6% strongly supported it.

Unraveling the contradictions

Strangely the study authors are puzzled by the contradictions in the study, and think the low ranking may not be realistic:

Zoe Leviston, a social psychologist at CSIRO and lead author of the survey, said the ranking was “surprisingly low”, not least because more than 70 per cent of respondents also judged climate change to be either somewhat, very or extremely important. Dr Leviston said the low ranking may reflect people turning off the issue because it had become so politicised, artificially pulling the ranking down.

If we pay attention to the confusion over the definitions of terms and look at the other results, it doesn’t seem surprising that it has a low rank. Apparently most people use the literal meaning of “climate change” themselves when answering questions but when asked what others think, they assume many people treat the term as it’s “coded” form. They predict many people will say they don’t believe in “climate change”. Probably most people realize the term is confounded, but are trying to answer it honestly and accurately. Sydney Morning Herald readers will remain as confused as ever. They won’t know that skeptics outnumber believers. Though at least they will know that nobody really cares anymore. Why does Peter Hannam or the researchers think that the “climate change” question means something and is worth reporting?

The survey, which polled 5219 people, found 81 per cent of respondents agreed that climate change was happening.

Do 20% of the population think that the climate is always the same (are these “ice age deniers”), or is it that they recognize that “climate change” means the religious code for man-made global warming? We can only guess. This year someone thought it would be worth adding the true believers to the don’t knows and the complete skeptics and produce a blended number combining their thoughts.

A question asking respondents to estimate the contribution humans were making produced a score of 61.7 on a scale of 0-100 per cent confidence.

A score? This informs us about national policies — how?


Leviston, Z., & Walker, I. A. (2010). Baseline Survey of Australian Attitudes to Climate Change: Preliminary Report. CSIRO, Perth. Leviston, Z., & Walker, I. (2011). Second Annual Survey of Australian attitudes to climate change: Interim report. CSIRO, Perth. Leviston, Z., Walker, I., & Malkin, S. (2013) Third annual survey of Australian attitudes to climate change: Interim report. CSIRO, Perth. Leviston, Z., Price,S.,  Malkin, S. & McCrea, R. (2014) Fourth annual survey of Australian attitudes to climate change: Interim report. See all surveys here.

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