Monday, March 28, 2016

The climate wars: trench warfare or blitzkrieg?

In a previous post, I examined more than 25 years of Gallup polls in the US and I came to the conclusion the climate debate is stuck in a trench warfare condition. Apparently, the percentage of Americans who say they are "worried" about climate change is today nearly the same as it was in 1989.

After the publication of that post, I received a comment that cited the results of a recent study of the social media sponsored by "The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate" that seem to be indicating a different trend. Here is the main result of that study;

Clearly, something has changed in 2014 that has led to a remarkable change in the discourse on the relation of climate and economic growth, with a very large growth (around 700%) of people having an attitude defined as "positive" toward climate change. At first sight, it looks good: this is not trench warfare, it is a true blitzkrieg.

However, it is also something that has to be taken with great caution. Note that the question that was examined in the analysis was very narrow; strictly limited to whether one believes that climate change and economic growth are compatible. The analysis didn't examine whether the messages indicated that people were worried or not about climate change, or even whether they believed it existed and was caused by human actions. And the "negative" opinion expressed in a fraction of the messages might well have been expressed by people who were very worried about climate change; so much that they thought (reasonably, in my opinion) that economic growth can only worsen things. 

Indeed, the goals and the approach of the group of people who call themselves "The New Climate Economy Commission" seems to be very limited. In one of their reports, they state.

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is a major international initiative to analyze and communicate the economic benefits and costs of acting on climate change. Chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, the Commission comprises 28 former heads of government and finance ministers and leaders in the fields of economics and business. The goal of the New Climate Economy is to shift public discourse away from the costs of climate action to one focused on how economic growth and climate action can be achieved together

This group is said to be "commissioned by seven countries – Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom," but there are few details on what were the terms of the financing were and which agencies provided it. The page where they could provide more details on these questions is not accessible to the public. Apparently, anyway, the idea is that, since economic growth is good by definition, then it will also solve the climate change problem. Which is debatable, to say the least.

Nevertheless, we have here an interesting result that indicates that the debate on climate is not necessarily stuck forever and that, at least, there is a growing interest in the issue. It also shows that we have remarkable capabilities of studying trends in the debate not just on the basis of the old style opinion polls, but by analyzing complex trend on a vast network of social media. So far, I haven't been able to find an equivalent study that would ask questions such as, for instance, what is the percentage of people believing that it is urgent to act against global warming. That may come in the near future and then we'll be able to see if trench warfare in the climate wars is really transforming itself into a blitzkrieg.

h/t Jeremy Leggett

And BTW, this is the 500th post published on the Cassandra blog!

1 comment:


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)