Belief in man-made climate change
For the first time, the 2011 British Social Attitudes survey included a question about belief in climate change. We asked respondents which of the following statements came closest to their view:
I don't believe that climate change is taking place
I believe that climate change is taking place but not as a result of human actions
I believe that climate change is taking place and is, at least partly, a result of human actions
Given the evidence from previous surveys that concern about the environmental impact of climate change has fallen to historically low levels, the replies to this new question may seem surprising. Three in four people (76 per cent) believe that climate change is happening and that humans are, at least partly, responsible. Another one in six (16 per cent) believe that climate change is taking place, although not as a result of human actions, while just seven per cent do not believe that climate change is taking place at all. In other words, public support for the scientific consensus on climate change is relatively high.
Taylor, in the 28th British Social Attitudes report (2011a), noted how 'concern' about the dangers of climate change to the environment varied by demographic group. Specifically, expressed levels of concern were lowest among older respondents, people without qualifications, those in lower income groups and Conservative Party sympathisers. 'Belief' is, of course, a different concept to 'concern'. It is possible, for example, to believe that climate change is occurring due to human actions but still be unconcerned about how it affects the environment. But do the beliefs about climate change voiced by people in different demographic subgroups vary in a similar way to their expressions of concern?
Table 4.1 shows that they do. People aged 65 and older (66 per cent) are less likely than others to believe that climate change is caused by human actions, while those under 65 (78-80 per cent of 18-64 year olds) are more likely to believe so. Likewise graduates (86 per cent) and people in the top quarter of the income distribution (82 per cent) are more likely to believe in man-made climate change than people without educational qualifications (63 per cent) or those in the lowest income quartile (73 per cent). Distinctions also emerge between supporters of the three main political parties at Westminster. Although the Prime Minister David Cameron has declared that he wants to lead "the greenest government ever",1 people who identify with his Conservative Party are less likely (71 per cent) to believe that climate change is caused by human actions than those who sympathise with Labour (78 per cent) or his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats (89 per cent).
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- Speech by David Cameron at Department of Energy and Climate Change, www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn10_059/pn10_059.aspx
- This question does not ask specifically about car use, but is placed with other questions about road transport.
- It has previously been noted that those most concerned about the environment can often themselves be the most frequent flyers (Commission for Integrated Transport, 2007).
- Transport policy in Scotland is devolved so this would only apply in England and Wales.
- The multivariate analysis technique used was logistic regression - more details of the methods used can be found in the Technical details chapter of this report. Further details of the analysis results are available from the authors on request.
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