Changing Public Opinion -extract from Nicholas Stern’s 2009 book

 4/4/2009 Extract from ‘A BLUEPRINT FOR A SAFER PLANET’ by Nicholas Stern, 2009Political pressure and public opinion.

 As well as taking action to reduce their own emissions, individuals, either separately as voters and  citizens, or together through civil society including NGOs, can put pressure on governments to  establish a climate policy framework and to agree a global deal.
 International pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth, WWF and Greenpeace have of course  been active on these issues for many years, and as well as traditional campaigning and direct  action, many are now striking up alliances with other parts of society in order to move forward.  For example, the WWF is working with a number of major global businesses in the Climate  Savers programme, which aims to promote efficiency and cut emissions.

 Individuals can also have a powerful influence. Nobel prizewinner Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film  An Inconvenient Truth has had a great international impact recently, as have Nicolas Hulot, a  prominent and very effective environmentalist in French television, and David Suzuki, a  remarkable scientist and commentator in Canada, both within their own countries and more  widely. Hulot, for instance, was instrumental in making climate change an issue in the 2007  French presidential election, by asking all the main candidates to sign his ‘Pacte ecologique’ and  threatening to run for president if they did not: they all signed. Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a  well-known photographer and author of The Earth from Above, initiated an environmental  awareness campaign for students in 50,000 schools across France.

 The media, newspapers, radio, television, Web and so on have a great responsibility in presenting  evidence in a measured and careful way. All too often, however, a desire for theatre or misplaced  assessment of the balance of the argument leads them to, for example, give similar time to  scientists and deniers of the science, when the balance of the argument in logic and evidence is 99  (or more) to 1, not 50-50. There is also a real difficulty in keeping long-term issues in the public  eye.

 The evidence on public opinion is encouraging. In 2006, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs  and, in cooperation with global organisations, found that in all countries  where polling was undertaken, a significant majority see climate as an important or critical threat,  including in China and India.  People also see the need for a strong response; according to a 2007  BBC World Service poll of 22,000 people in twenty-one countries, nine out of ten said that action  is necessary to address global warming and a substantial majority (65%)  chose the strongest  position which calls for major steps starting very soon.  The countries with the largest majorities  favouring the toughest action on climate change are in Europe: Spain (91%), Italy (86%)  and  France (85%). Latin American countries were also strongly in favour: Mexico (83%),  Chile  (78%)  and Brazil (76%). Also in 2007, however, HSBC found relatively low levels of confidence  that action would be taken — although levels of optimism were relatively high in India (45%) and  China (39%),  they were low in most other countries, particularly France (5%) and the UK  (6%).18  There is a growing understanding of the importance of action, but much to do in order to  galvanise it.

 In line with strengthening public opinion, voters have made themselves felt on climate issues. In  California, Governor Schwarzenegger has been a leader in climate change policy for his state,  putting in place an ambitious target for emissions reductions of 8o% below 1990 by 2050, and has  taken a leadership role in the national debate.19 He was re-elected in 2006 with an increased  majority. In November 2007, the voters of Australia comprehensively voted out the government of  John Howard, motivated in part by the hostile line he had previously taken on action on climate  change and his refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Kevin Rudd replaced him and within weeks had  signed Kyoto and played a prominent part in the UNFCCC meeting in Bali in December 2007  which launched the negotiations for the successor to Kyoto. Ultimately, if public opinion on  climate change action is strong, then politicians will listen. However, the causality runs both  ways: clear and decisive leadership by legislative and business leaders can inform and influence  public opinion, so that a more engaged public in turn press for greater action from their  representatives.

See:  A Bluprint for Safer Planet in the BOOKS category.