DCSIMG

Big freeze changes minds on global warming

A THIRD of Scots have changed their views on climate change due to the winter big freeze and the "climategate" scandal, a study for The Scotsman has revealed.

More than 1,000 people in Scotland were questioned about their opinions on climate change and 72 per cent said they believed global warming was caused by human activity.

However, in a signal that a series of controversies about climate change has had an impact on public opinion, 30 per cent said they had changed their views on the science behind global warming over the past year.

The key reason was the big freeze in December and January, when Scotland experienced its second coldest winter on record.

And a quarter of those whose opinions had altered said this was due to the so called "climategate" scandal involving leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia.

The results of the poll come just a day before an eagerly-awaited report by Muir Russell into the saga at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.

Edinburgh market research firm George Street Research interviewed 1,126 Scots.

The results showed 85 per cent believe climate change is happening and 72 per cent think it is largely caused by human activities, such as greenhouse gas emissions from power stations and transport.

However, the study also showed that 30 per cent had changed their opinion about the science to back up climate change over the past year.

Of this 30 per cent, 62 per cent said it was because Scotland had just had its second coldest winter on record.

Environment groups said it was encouraging so many people accepted climate change was happening, and that the majority thought it was caused by humans. However, they added that it was a huge challenge to explain to people the difference between weather and climate.

They want to get the message across that local cold weather does not alter the trend of global climate warming.

While Scotland was struggling with freezing conditions and heavy snowfalls, other parts of the world were experiencing droughts.

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "The very large majority who recognise that climate change is happening and that it is primarily human caused mandate the government to take the necessary action to tackle this pressing problem.

"The public is less divided over climate change than over most other issues of policy and politics."

He highlighted that the impact of the "climategate" controversy seemed to have been relatively low — just 24 per cent of the 30 per cent who had changed their views. This worked out as only 8 per cent of the people who took part in the poll.

And he said the impact of the cold winter of people's views on climate change was part of an ongoing difficulty for the public to understand the difference between global climate and regional weather.

"The impact of the cold winter shows the difficulty many people have in distinguishing weather from climate," he said.

"We must remember that that cold winter was at most a regional effect, with the globe as a whole still showing significant warming."

David Primrose, director of George Street Research, agreed that there was confusion between weather and climate.

"It just shows the enormity of the challenge when it comes to communicating any of the issues relating to climate change," he said.

"People don't understand climate as opposed to weather. People think 'what's going on?' when they see things happening locally like a really cold winter. They think it doesn't follow the logic."

The poll for The Scotsman was carried out following a year fraught with controversy for climate change.

Hot on the heels of the saga involving the University of East Anglia, the long-awaited Copenhagen climate talks ended without agreement.

Then the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international scientific body that produces reviews on global warming, was forced to apologise for a mistake in its most recent report published in 2007.

The report contained a prediction that Himalayan glaciers were likely to disappear by 2035, which turned out to be a typographical error.

However, Dr Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said it was clear that public acceptance of climate change was still high.

"This poll once again confirms that the vast majority of the public agrees that climate change is happening and that it is a result of human activity," Dr Barlow said.

"These findings show that Scotland's politicians were right to back ambitious cuts in Scotland's climate emissions and lead the way in tackling climate change.

He added: "The findings show that people in Scotland have clearly seen through the unhelpful attempts of a few climate sceptics to discredit global scientific consensus and undermine action to tackle climate change."

And he said Scots should not place too much emphasis on the cold winter.

"A single cold winter for Scotland does not undermine the much more significant long term changes in our climate, globally this year we've already seen some of the warmest monthly temperatures on record," he said.

The poll, carried out between 5 and 21 June, revealed that retired people and those over the age of 65 were most likely to be sceptical about climate change.

Whereas on average 85 per cent of respondents thought climate change was happening, this dropped to 79 per cent for those aged over 65. In contrast, 96 per cent of students believed in climate change.

Similarly, people aged over 65 were least likely to think the change was caused by human activity, at 64 per cent compared with the average of 72 per cent.

The "climategate scandal" affected men's opinions far more than women's. A third of men who had changed their view said this was due to the scandal, compared with a fifth of women.

Related articles

• 'Climategate' E-mail scandal report out tomorrow

• Science panel rapped over errors While Scotland was struggling with freezing conditions and heavy snowfalls, other parts of the world were experiencing droughts.

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "The very large majority who recognise that climate change is happening and that it is primarily human caused mandate the government to take the necessary action to tackle this pressing problem.

"The public is less divided over climate change than over most other issues of policy and politics."

He highlighted that the impact of the "climategate" controversy seemed to have been relatively low — just 24 per cent of the 30 per cent who had changed their views. This worked out as only 8 per cent of the people who took part in the poll.

And he said the impact of the cold winter of people's views on climate change was part of an ongoing difficulty for the public to understand the difference between global climate and regional weather.

"The impact of the cold winter shows the difficulty many people have in distinguishing weather from climate," he said.

"We must remember that that cold winter was at most a regional effect, with the globe as a whole still showing significant warming."

David Primrose, director of George Street Research, agreed that there was confusion between weather and climate.

"It just shows the enormity of the challenge when it comes to communicating any of the issues relating to climate change," he said.

"People don't understand climate as opposed to weather. People think 'what's going on?' when they see things happening locally like a really cold winter. They think it doesn't follow the logic."

The poll for The Scotsman was carried out following a year fraught with controversy for climate change.

Hot on the heels of the saga involving the University of East Anglia, the long-awaited Copenhagen climate talks ended without agreement.

Then the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international scientific body that produces reviews on global warming, was forced to apologise for a mistake in its most recent report published in 2007.

The report contained a prediction that Himalayan glaciers were likely to disappear by 2035, which turned out to be a typographical error.

However, Dr Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said it was clear that public acceptance of climate change was still high.

"This poll once again confirms that the vast majority of the public agrees that climate change is happening and that it is a result of human activity," Dr Barlow said.

"These findings show that Scotland's politicians were right to back ambitious cuts in Scotland's climate emissions and lead the way in tackling climate change.

He added: "The findings show that people in Scotland have clearly seen through the unhelpful attempts of a few climate sceptics to discredit global scientific consensus and undermine action to tackle climate change."

And he said Scots should not place too much emphasis on the cold winter.

"A single cold winter for Scotland does not undermine the much more significant long term changes in our climate, globally this year we've already seen some of the warmest monthly temperatures on record," he said.

The poll, carried out between 5 and 21 June, revealed that retired people and those over the age of 65 were most likely to be sceptical about climate change.

Whereas on average 85 per cent of respondents thought climate change was happening, this dropped to 79 per cent for those aged over 65. In contrast, 96 per cent of students believed in climate change.

Similarly, people aged over 65 were least likely to think the change was caused by human activity, at 64 per cent compared with the average of 72 per cent.

The "climategate scandal" affected men's opinions far more than women's. A third of men who had changed their view said this was due to the scandal, compared with a fifth of women.

He added: "The findings show that people in Scotland have clearly seen through the unhelpful attempts of a few climate sceptics to discredit global scientific consensus and undermine action to tackle climate change."

And he said Scots should not place too much emphasis on the cold winter.

"A single cold winter for Scotland does not undermine the much more significant long term changes in our climate, globally this year we've already seen some of the warmest monthly temperatures on record," he said.

The poll, carried out between 5 and 21 June, revealed that retired people and those over the age of 65 were most likely to be sceptical about climate change.

Whereas on average 85 per cent of respondents thought climate change was happening, this dropped to 79 per cent for those aged over 65. In contrast, 96 per cent of students believed in climate change.

Similarly, people aged over 65 were least likely to think the change was caused by human activity, at 64 per cent compared with the average of 72 per cent.

The "climategate scandal" affected men's opinions far more than women's. A third of men who had changed their view said this was due to the scandal, compared with a fifth of women.

 
 
 

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