Half Of Australia Doesn’t Believe In Human Induced Climate Change, Report Finds


National Party voters topped the class for climate denial, but the Libs aren’t far behind. Thom Mitchell reports.

Almost half of Australian voters don’t believe humans are changing the climate, and more than half of the people who vote for the Liberal Party believe changes in the climate system are a ‘natural fluctuation’.

That’s according to research from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which yesterday published the results of a major longitudinal study on public attitudes toward climate change.

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The organisation surveyed 17,493 people online across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia to complete the five year study, which ran up to 2014 before it was axed this year, that found there was “a medium strength, statistically significant effect” between voting behaviour and attitudes to climate change.

“On average, those who voted for the Labor party or the Greens were more likely to state that climate change was human-induced,” the CSIRO study found.

“By contrast, those who had voted for the Liberal party or the National party were more likely to state that climate change was happening, but natural.”

National Party voters were most likely to deny climate change outright — with 18 per cent responding that it’s ‘not happening’. The attitude was slightly less prevalent among Liberal voters, with 13 per cent stating they did not believe in climate change, as compared to 4 per cent of Labor supporters and just 2 per cent of Greens.

Image: CSIRO
Image: CSIRO

The study also reveals that vast numbers of Australians believe the climate is changing, but that humans are not responsible. Here Liberal voters lead, with 52 per cent of blue-ties being of the belief that changes in the climate are not anthropogenic, compared to 42 per cent of Nationals voters.

In the Labor camp, 31 per cent of respondents believed humans were not changing the climate, while 17 per cent of Greens voters also held that view.

The results of the study are at times conflicting, and so should be treated with some caution, but indicate a reasonably broad awareness and acceptance of climate change.

In general terms, 78 per cent of respondents indicated they believe the climate is changing. Across the total sample surveyed, “Just under half of respondents (45.9 per cent) selected the statement indicating climate change was largely caused by humans.”

“A further 38.6 per cent indicated they thought it was happening, but just a natural fluctuation. Smaller proportions selected the option that it was not happening at all (7.9 per cent) and that they didn’t know (7.7 per cent).”

Image: CSIRO.
Image: CSIRO.

While there appears to be a high level of denial that climate change is caused by human beings, those respondents who held this view tended to give mixed signals.

“Those who endorsed the opinion statement that climate change was not happening at all later estimated around a third (34.6 per cent) of all climate change could be attributed to human activity,” the study found.

Similarly, “Those who endorse the statement indicating climate change is just a natural fluctuation in Earth’s temperatures, also later estimated that nearly half (46.7 per cent) of all climate change could be attributed to human activity.”

The lack of acceptance of the scientific consensus around climate change may be partly explained by the study’s findings around people’s emotional response to the climate crisis. CSIRO found that feelings of “anger, fear, powerlessness and irritation” were the most commonly expressed.

Image: CSIRO.
Image: CSIRO.

Respondents also felt optimistic about how climate change would impact them when asked “how much they thought climate change would harm different groups of people”.

“In general, respondents thought they themselves would be harmed less than others in their family and neighbourhood, who in turn would be harmed less than others in the country,” the study found.

Just over 14 per cent of Australians are also holding out hope that “the environment can adapt to changes and technology will solve environmental problems eventually”.

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.