Just as we have the discussion about the UBA's controversial pamphlet, Roger Pielke Jr. addresses the issue from a more general angle. Writing in the Guardian, he points out that many climate campaigners are inclined to believe that lack of political progress is caused by climate sceptics (and their resourceful funders). The myth is created that they are almighty and have already won the political debate. What is needed is a concerted effort from all goodwilling and 'serious' people (mainly scientists) to obviate their influence, thus paving the way for the achievement of GHG reduction strategies.
Roger rightly comments that
a closer look at the logic underlying such arguments reveals a chain of causality which scholars of the public understanding of science have long critiqued as the ineffectual "deficit model" of science. Even more troubling, there is reason to believe that the focus of attention by climate campaigners on sceptics actually works against effective action.
The so-called "deficit model" suggests that the public lacks certain knowledge that if it were known properly (so closing the deficit) would lead them to favor certain policy actions. In other words, if only you understood the "facts" as I understand them, then you would come to share my policy preferences.What is more, the assumption that sceptics would dominate public opinion is flawed. As Pielke points out,
The deficit model helps to explain why people argue so passionately about "facts" in public debates over policies with scientific components. If you believe that acceptance of certain scientific views is a precondition for, or a causal factor in determining what policy views people hold, then arguments over facts serve as political debate by proxy.
Data on public opinion on climate change has been collected, in some cases for several decades, in countries around the world. What it shows is remarkably strong support for the so-called scientific consensus, as well as strong support for policy action. Even in the notoriously climate sceptical United States, Gallup finds: "trends throughout the past decade - and some stretching back to 1989 – have shown generally consistent majority support for the idea that global warming is real, that human activities cause it, and that news reports on it are correct, if not underestimated."My own research has shown that it is a myth that sceptics dominate public debate, even in the stronghold of scepticism, the USA. The research is based on an analysis of print media (full paper here).
Another Gallup poll of 128 countries in 2007 and 2008 found strong majorities in most countries - including most large emitters of carbon dioxide – believe that global warming is a result of human activities. Public opinion does vary a great deal, often literally with the weather, but it has overall been remarkably consistent over many years in support of action. Far from being an obstacle to action on climate change, public opinion is in fact a resource to be capitalized upon.
Put in perspective, the UBA controversy lays bare the political motivation for such exercises. However, it rests on flawed assumptions.