Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Our Survey Said. . .

Following my earlier blog posting, I've now received a reply from the office of Peter Lilley in response the questions I raised following last weeks commons debate.

1. Can you please point me towards the Pew survey giving the UK 15% of people in the UK "take (climate change) seriously or are seriously concerned" figure you quoted. I can only find data from October relating to Pew's USA surveys. I would be interested to see the data showing how this percentage figure is much higher in most other countries.

2. Is the Science Museum survey that Mr Lilley referred to in his speech last week the "Prove It" survey that is available for people to enter online or can he point me towards other survey results that, as he stated in the house, resulted from questionnaires being completed by people who had actually walked through the physical exhibition space at the museum. I want to make sure that I get this clear as the Daily Telegraph reported the same "6:1" ratio when it reported that the online survey had been hijacked by sceptics.

And the answers? Here they are paraphrased with my comments.

1. That 15% Pew figure
The 15% figure quoted by Mr Lilley did not come from a Pew survey. It came from a Daily Telegraph article reporting the results of the 2009 HSBC Climate Confidence Monitor that has been commissioned for the past three years by the HSBC Climate Partnership. The survey questions 1,000 people in each of 12 countries worldwide and shows recent trends in public attitudes towards climate change in developed and developing countries.

If you look at the interactive version of the results, you can see that, in 2009, 15% of those surveyed "agree or strongly agree that climate change and how we respond to it are among the biggest issues that they worry about today". This is down from 22% in 2007 and 26% in 2008. Although the question posed is slightly different from the "take (climate change) seriously or are seriously concerned (about climate change)" reported by Mr Lilley (which ignores the existence and relative significance of other important issues that people have to worry about), we should indeed perhaps be concerned by this downward trend and ask ourselves if messages about climate change are being communicated effectively.

It is important however to look at the full content of the interactive report rather than simply cherry-picking results. The same report throws up some strange paradoxes and inconsistencies in the UK results. According to the report, only 9% of people in the UK agree or strongly agree that people or organisations who should be doing something about climate change are doing enough. 29% agree or agree strongly that the UK should go further than existing emission reduction targets.

The report concludes that "Consumers feel strongly about a deal (at Copenhagen) being reached. People in all countries support a budgetary commitment to tackling climate change despite the increased importance of competing priorities. We are seeing a demand for carbon dioxide emission reductions across the globe. Respondents everywhere believe that all countries must reduce their emissions regardless of whether they are in emerging or developed regions. A global call to action is clear"

2. That Science Museum "Prove It" Survey
Mr Lilley has confirmed "I suspect the Science Museum figs came from Wattsupwiththat blog last week". I'd never heard of this blog so I checked it out. The entry relating to the Science Museum survey is tailed by comments about how "robovoting" can be used to boost the "count me out" result. Once comment by "lihard" attributes 1,000 of the "I'm not convinced" votes to their own robovoting script.

It seems that the online poll was poorly designed, was open to abuse from all sides and made no attempt to check the validity of names and email addresses entered or whether they were from UK respondents. In other words, the poll has been exposed as worse than useless. It should never have been cited by an MP in a commons debate to suggest that the UK public are not convinced by the scientific evidence presented to them.

So, basically, ignore the online Science Museum Poll. It's broken. And ignore Mr Lilley's assertion that the poll demonstrates a sceptical public

A Too Easy Target

Perhaps the 5th November was a bad day to chose to watch my first live commons debate. Remember, remember, the 5th November. . . Today's security measures at the Palace of Westminster however would surely thwart any kind of gunpowder or its more modern equivalent and all forms of treason although perhaps plotting can still sneak a path through the X-Ray machines.

I padded up the softly carpeted staircase to find that the public gallery was already packed with Italian tourists and groups of schoolchildren. But, by the time Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband rose at 12.15 to start the main business of the day, the commons benches were almost empty. I counted about MPs in the chamber. The press gallery was almost empty.

So, was this an obscure debate about glass manufacturing? An absorbing session on the finer points of parliamentary process? No. It was actually parliament's last scheduled debate on climate change before the much anticipated COP15 talks in Copenhagen. The last opportunity for MPs to represent and voice the questions and concerns of their constituents and to ensure that Ed Miliband and his team of negotiators left for Copenhagen with these questions ringing in their ears.

So why did I chose to sit in the tourist filled gallery to watch this debate when I could have seen it broadcast live at home? The remote controlled cameras in the commons chamber will only show you so much. They don’t show the galleries. They only show long shots of the chamber or who is speaking. Only by being there can you really see the level, or lack, of animation in the house as MPs stand to catch the Speaker’s attention. Only by being there can you watch as the row of impossibly young civil servants, perched on their own benches tucked behind the speaker’s chair, pass notes along a relay of backbenchers to those on the front bench. Only by sitting behind that huge glass screen can you see MPs slumped on benches, just one hour into what could be a 6 hour debate.

When Peter Lilley, Conservative MP for Hitchen and Harpenden, claimed that a survey completed by visitors to the Science Museum’s “Prove It” climate change exhibition "after they had been through the museum and seen the graphic evidence presented in the most persuasive way possible by the alarmists" showed that people who remained unconvinced of the dangers outnumbered those convinced by a ratio of 6:1, there was a flurry of note-passing but not a single challenge. Both front benches failed to point out to Mr Lilley, as had already been reported by the Daily Telegraph, that this was actually an online survey and that it had been "hijacked" by climate change sceptics. I'm certain that a concerted and determined campaign by the many organisations campaigning for action on climate change could easily reverse that ratio. In fact, when I last looked, the ratio was already down to 2.4:1 and falling.

I was left feeling disappointed that Mr Lilley wasn't picked up or challenged on this and that this now sits on the Hansard record. I had to fight the urge to knock on the big glass wall of the public gallery to make the point and couldn't get rid of the image of Benjamin Braddock hammering on the church wall in the final scdene of The Graduate. I could just image the snarling gritted teeth as I hammered away shouting "online survey! Hijacked by sceptics!"

I’m still waiting for Mr Lilley’s office to point me towards the Pew survey reported to show that “only 15% of the UK population take seriously or are seriously concerned about the prospect of climate change”. Something to be concerned about if it is true and something that could give us useful information on how people respond to the messages they are receiving about climate change.

In earlier "oral questions", Mr Miliband and Joan Ruddock looked exasperated and I leant forward on my bench as Mr Lilley, chose to attack "that" advert - the £6m "bedtime story" campaign that I've written about before and that is still the subject of an ongoing Advertising Standards Agency investigation. Mr Lilley describing it as a “propaganda film” focused on what he described as the “fairy story” depicted in the advert . It just goes to show that adverts like this present such an easy target for deniers, sceptics and those who are "luke warm", giving them a gift in that bedtime stories and fairy stories are so often one and the same thing.

The lack of MPs and the lack of press left me concerned that people could well be becoming getting weary of and hardened to the use of negative and doom-laden messages and images, such as those carried by the Act On CO2 TV campaign. It left me feeling that, as the Barcelona talks plodded on, the world had resigned itself to an incomplete deal in Copenhagen.

A new direction is needed if people are to become engaged and feel empowered. Hope and opportunity have a huge role to play and many groups are now trying to bypass the semantics of the science by focussing on a positive future and the huge opportunities it gives us to radically review the way we live.

John Gummer, summed this up nicely.

If Britain wants to be in the same position in the future that the industrial revolution put us into in the past, we really must accept the green revolution. That was the whole burden of the report produced by the Quality of Life group, which I had the honour to chair. The report made it clear that there was an economic imperative to deliver a low-carbon economy”

Campaigning groups are finally starting to use messages like this to try to dispel feelings of helplessness that can come from being bombarded with images and forecasts of doom and destruction. I’ve just read the introduction to Al Gore’s new coffee table style book, ‘Our Choice’, and am looking forward to reading some positive and empowering messages and just hoping there are no pictures of polar bears clinging to lumps of ice. . .