Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Image from Andrzeg Krause/New Scientist

Image from Andrzeg Krause/New Scientist

A recent poll suggests that the majority of people around the world think that governments should be doing more to tackle climate change. The survey, carried out by WorldPublicOpinion.org, asked 18,578 people  in 18 countries – representing 60% of the world’s population – about government priorities on climate, as well as the attitudes of their fellow citizens.

Earlier this week, Jeremy Williams pointed out that in the UK, people are far more concerned about the effects of recession that they are about any environmental issue. And while this won’t come as a surprise to any environmentalist, it can be disheartening to see the wide disparity between concern about economy and concern about environment. Especially given that, as Herman Daly once said, “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse.”

Still, this latest poll might give climate change campaigners some reasons to be cheerful. Asked how much their Government prioritises climate change – on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest priority – UK respondents to the poll answered 5.92.  Asked how much the Government should prioritise climate change, and they answered 8.2. Which means that most of us want the Government to take considerably more action to fix this problem.

The UK was actually among the countries who recommended that Government make climate change a high priority, trumped only by Turkey at 8.34, China at a revealing and impressive 8.86, and finally Mexico with a whopping 9.09. The fact that Chinese people are this concerned should be cause for hope.

But China’s ascendency to superpower status in no way diminuishes the importance of American attitudes which are, unfortunately, lacklustre in comparison. 4.71 out of 10 is the priority which, according to Americans, their Government should place on climate change. And while this figure does show that people believe that Obama and co. should being doing more on climate – Americans believe that global warming is currently prioritised at 3.84 out of 10 by Government – the number is still the lowest level of concern out of all the nations surveyed, including those who, like Iraq, have arguably more immediate things to worry about.

The United States is schizophrenic in its attitudes to science and science policy. It tends to be very pro-technology in some areas, and then baulks at stem cell research. It produces some of the best scientific research anywhere in the world, and is home to top-class universities and experts, and yet its populace remain so susceptible to the dishonest peddlars of creationism and climate change denial. The existence of such double standards and contrary attitudes can be baffling to external observers, and yet, when given the chance to see how the American media covers these issues, you begin to understand why.

The following story is a case in point. Anthony Watts is a meteorologist weather reporter at a Californian radio station owned by Fox News, and host to the usual line-up of right-wing cronies, including Michael Savage and Sean Hannity. Watts wanted to pick some holes in the climate change argument, which he did by challenging the accuracy of many of the thousands of weather stations dotted across the USA. Many of these stations, Watts argued, were in locations where microclimates created by machinery, by concrete or by other human infrastructure were skewing the data, and creating the false impression of temperature rise. Of course, climate scientists, unlike most of American talk radio, do not devote their attentions to the particularities of one country alone. The dubious accuracy of American weather stations would have little bearing on the overall science of climate change. But, anyway, Watts was actually completely mistaken. The handful of ‘good’ weather stations which he selected out of thousands, still show the same basic pattern of warming over recent decades.

While Watts’ claims got him plenty of coverage in the American media, he wasn’t willing to share the limelight with a man who challenged his conclusions. Peter Sinclair, who produces an online video series called “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”, turned his attentions to Watts, pointing out the problems with the weather station argument. Watts tried to silence his critic, not by making a well-argued response, but by trying to claim that Sinclair infringed his copyright. Fortunately, Watts’ knowledge about copyright law is as poor as his grasp of climate science, and so the video is back online. Watch it triumphantly, but also consider it a reminder of what we’re up against when crooks like Watts can sound so convincing to the American public.

Perhaps Mexico could offer some sort of educational programme?

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