The vast majority of Europeans and Americans are aware that climate change is happening and that human activities are causing it, according to a new report published today. But ‘false balance’ in media coverage has left them with the impression that there is scientific debate about whether humans are causing climate change.
The Open Society European Policy Institute surveyed people about the existence, causes and impact of climate change in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Czechia, the U.K. and the U.S. Overall, only 10% of respondents said they do not accept that human activities have a role in climate change, with the largest amounts found in Sweden and the United States. But significant minorities in all countries believe scientists are equally divided on the causes of global warming – including two-thirds of people in Czechia and nearly half in the U.K.. In reality, 97% of climate scientists agree that humans have caused recent global warming.
“Citizens across Europe and the U.S. are still unclear about how overwhelming the scientific consensus is that humans are responsible for climate change,” says Open Society director Heather Grabbe. “Though outright denialism is rare, there is a widespread false belief, deliberately manufactured by vested interests opposed to emissions reductions, that scientists are split on whether the climate is changing because of human activity.”
“This soft denialism matters because it fails to prepare the public for how much their lives are likely to change over the next decades.”
Climate campaigners have long complained that a news media obsession with showing balance, particularly in the United States and Britain, has caused the media to present climate-sceptics with no scientific credentials as the ‘counterpoint’ to scientists warning about climate change, giving the public the impression that there is an active scientific debate on the issue.
Another study published last year by the University of California found that the American media is amplifying the voices of climate-sceptics and suppressing the voices of climate scientists. “It’s not just false balance; the numbers show that the media are ‘balancing’ experts — who represent the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists — with the views of a relative handful of non-experts,” University of California professor LeRoy Westerling said. “Most of the contrarians are not scientists, and the ones who are have very thin credentials. They are not in the same league with top scientists.”
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The Open Society report found that this false balance is affecting opinions about the degree to which human activity is causing climate change, which varied widely between the survey respondents. Large minorities, ranging from 17% to 44% across the surveyed countries, believe that climate change is caused equally by humans and natural processes. The highest was 44% in France, 39% in Czechia and 38% in the U.S..
The report identifies polarisation along party lines on this issue, in Europe as well as America. Those on the left tend to be more aware of the existence, causes and impact of climate change, and more in favour of action, than people on the right. Political differences were more important than age or income variation in most countries.
For example, in the U.S., those who identify as left in their political orientation are nearly three times as likely to expect a negative impact from climate change on their own lives (49%) compared to those who identify as more on the right (17%). Polarisation is also marked in Sweden, France, Italy and the UK. The only country where there is balance across the spectrum was Czechia.
Source: Forbes – Business