I live in Canberra and love it — in fact I have lived here four times, the first time in the 1940s. My mother and father met here in 1929. One of the things I have always liked about it is the quality of the conversations you can have here, where people come from all round our country and from the rest of the world.
Now I am beginning to wonder a little. The ACT Government, about whose Climate Change Council I wrote a little while ago, has issued what it calls its ‘Community Engagement Strategy on Climate Change’. This is a somewhat strange document anyway. What would you expect a ‘community engagement strategy’ to look like? This one seems to be about getting households and businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and enter cheerfully into a world of alternative energy.
The Minister’s Foreword begins like this: The ACT is leading the way in Australia on climate change mitigation; that is, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as the cause of climate change. The primary pathway to reducing emissions is to increase the proportion of the ACT’s energy needs from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. Our renewable energy target is 90% by 2020 and we are on track to meet this.
Well, I for one will be deeply impressed, indeed astonished, if 90 per cent of the ACT’s energy use comes from renewable sources by 2020, and even more impressed if the ACT’s households and businesses are not paying in that year by far the highest amount for electricity of any of Australia’s jurisdictions. It’s obvious that the more successful the ACT Government is in this effort, the more the citizens will pay.
Let’s set aside the strategy itself and focus on the community survey which gives confidence to the Government. It was done last year, and the sample size was 1197 people. Given that survey research was one of my research strengths I was interested to look at the whole methodology, and I have no great objections to any of it. The questions are sensibly expressed, and the margin of error is claimed at around three per cent, which is reasonable.
The sample is rather too female (53 per cent), much too well-educated (52 per cent university-educated instead of around 25 per cent), and rather too short of the blue-collar workers that actually do live and work here. Nonetheless, the responses to some of the questions are thought-provoking.
* 88 per cent agreed, or agreed strongly, that climate change was a genuine problem for the future.
* 68 per cent agreed, or agreed strongly, that their own lifestyle habits contributed to climate change.
* 62 per cent agreed, or agreed strongly, that householders would have to make difficult or inconvenient changes to their lives in order to tackle climate change.
* 68 per cent agreed, or strongly agreed, that they ought personally to take more action to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
* And 90 per cent disagreed, or disagreed strongly that it was too late to bother to take action to tackle climate change.
These are significant proportions, and had the sample been weighted in a more representative fashion I doubt that the numbers would have changed much. I would myself have begun such a survey by asking people what they thought were the most important issues facing them, without prompts, to see how much climate change actually figured in their minds. A little later, I would have offered them a set of issues and asked them to rank them, and one of them would have been global warming or climate change.
I put those suggestions forward because we know from other opinion polls that climate change does not rank highly with the electorate* — but a sample of 1200 in the ACT would give us an excellent handle on whether (or not) ACT residents are different.
Some 43 per cent of the respondents thought it was moderately or very urgent for the ACT Government to address climate change, and 81 per cent thought the Government should take a strong leadership role. Nearly the same proportion thought there was ‘a moral duty’ for the ACT community to take action on climate change.
Asked whether or not they were aware of what the ACT Government was doing in the area, only 40 per cent claimed that they knew; half of them could name solar farms, and a quarter could offer wind farms. No matter, nearly everybody thought it was a good thing for the ACT Government to help people make their homes more energy-efficient, and 90 per cent thought it was a good thing for the Government to introduce new building regulations ‘to make new buildings carbon neutral’.
I would have to say that on the face of it, the ACT Government has considerable popular support for what it is doing. I would add only the caveat expressed earlier, that is, we don’t really know how important the whole domain is to the respondents. If you ask people whether they are in favour of or opposed to some kind of wholly fictional but apparently plausible plan (one that a government has never said anything about), you’ll get a lot of reactions both positive and negative. Very few will say they’ve never heard of it, or that it’s rubbish.
Why not? Well, all surveys have to deal with the tendency of people to agree, other things being equal, and to pretend to knowledge they don’t have, so that the interviewer is happy and that the respondent doesn’t look ignorant. My own sense of these survey results is that they exaggerate the real support for ‘tackling climate change’ in the ACT.
I would also suggest that many respondents knew that ‘climate change’ was a much discussed matter, and that something ought to be done about it, but that was about the extent of their real knowledge. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me, either, if there were not a higher level of real interest in the ACT, compared with any other jurisdiction.
Which means more work for me, and those of like mind who live here.[* According to a Eurobarometer poll conducted in July 2013, a mere 4% of the European population now cites the alleged climate catastrophe as their most pressing concern. Moreover, the number is zero percent in seven European countries, including Portugal. Source: WUWT, today]