Climate Of The Nation


"I think if politicians are involved, people put the red flag up straight away. They are only talking because they want the vote. For me, give me my veggie patch and some chooks and I’ll be happy."

This comment by Poppy Niotis of Western Sydney sums up how most Australians feel about climate change and the policy debate that has gripped the nation for the past five years.

In mid-2012, Australians are sick of the politics, uncertain about climate change science, feeling like they are doing what they can to reduce their environmental footprint — but still looking to government and business to do more on climate change. Those are the key findings of a new climate change attitudes and opinions Climate of the Nation 2012 report by The Climate Institute, as part of research that has been ongoing since 2007.

A majority of Australians (64 per cent) agreed that climate change is occurring. Nearly half (49 per cent) said it was due to a mixture of human causes and natural cycles; a further fifth (20 per cent) agreed that humans are the main cause. Although a lower number than in previous years, most people (54 per cent) remain "concerned about climate change."

An underlying resilience in the potency of climate change as an issue is revealed in three key areas: enduring expectation of action from governments and business, concern about climate impacts and a big appetite for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Both the survey and the discussion groups held for Climate of the Nation 2012 reveal that Australians are feeling cost of living pressures and are concerned about maintaining their quality of life. Yet they are prepared to do their bit on climate change, especially when it means cleaner air and better health for their children.

After all the toxic politics, more than two-thirds still expect the Federal Government to be taking a leading role, with most seeing a leading role for other governments and business. Only around 10 per cent see no need for action.

Despite the slender majority concerned about climate change in the abstract, actual impacts are concerns for around three quarters of Australians. Main concerns range from more pollution, loss of animal and plant species, and food and water security, to Australia-specific impacts such as the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and more frequent bushfires.

Residents of Western Australia showed as the most sensitive among respondents, highlighting concerns about water shortages in major cities, droughts affecting crop production and food supply, and rising sea levels threatening coastal communities at higher percentages than other states, or nationally.

Women across Australia are more concerned than men. Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of women said they were fairly concerned or very concerned about the impacts of climate change, compared to 45 per cent of men. Men were also more likely to say that they were not at all concerned (23 per cent versus 8 per cent of women).

Australians overwhelmingly back more renewable energy as a solution. Solar, wind and hydro, in particular, draw significant support, with 81 per cent of respondents placing solar energy within their top three preferred energy options. Wind was the second most preferred option with 59 per cent. Energy efficiency for industry and households is also popular as effective policy.

Two-thirds placed coal in their least preferred three options, slightly more than nuclear at 64 per cent.

Australians are less convinced about carbon prices as a solution but are open to be convinced. Asked if they support the carbon pricing laws, only 28 per cent of respondents said yes (with 52 per cent in opposition). But support grows to 47 per cent (with only 29 per cent in opposition) when it is explained, as is the case, that revenue raised will support households, business and development of clean energy.

Neither party has an edge in the debate. Only 28 per cent agreed that Labor has an effective emissions reduction plan. But that is twice as many as those who thought the Coalition has an effective plan (14 per cent). Less than half think the Coalition will repeal the government’s Clean Energy Future laws, if they are elected to office.

Environmental and economic reforms often come with exaggerated perceptions of their cost, perhaps none more than with the recent carbon pricing laws.

Whether Australians follow past practice here and overseas and grow to accept these reforms will depend on a number of factors, ranging from perceptions of personal cost to the effectiveness of reforms in changing business behaviour and pollution reduction.

How these attitudes mix with underlying motivational drivers, views of quality as well as cost of living, and trust in messengers will determine the climate of the nation in coming months and years.

What would you do about climate change? from The Climate Institute on Vimeo.

What do you think about climate change? from The Climate Institute on Vimeo.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.