Poor countries don’t care about climate change

The Lima climate talks have just ended. Predictably, no substantive agreement was reached. The nations of the world agreed for the umpteenth time that climate change needs to be fixed but remained completely unable to agree as to who should pay for fixing it. For the umpteenth time the rich developed nations said it’s a global problem and everyone should pitch in. For the umpteenth time the poor developing nations said no, you rich guys caused it and should therefore pay to fix it, and besides there’s a clause in the original 1992 UNFCCC agreement that lets us off the hook (which there is).

One could easily come away with the impression that this is simply a sordid squabble over money. There are, however, reasons to believe that the position of the developing nations is conditioned by more than just money, and an ongoing poll that has received very little publicity sheds light on what it is. Flying under the radar, it’s the United Nations internet poll on how, together, we are going to shape a better world:

Why does your vote matter?

You’re part of a global vote at the United Nations, allowing people for the first time to have a direct say in shaping a better world.

The votes matter. The UN is working with governments everywhere to define the next global agenda to address extreme poverty and preserve the planet. The data from MY World continues to inform these processes and be used by decision makers around the world.

“I want this to be the most inclusive global development process the world has ever known” – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

The poll allows voters from any country to select the six options out of the following list of sixteen that they think will do most to eradicate poverty and preserve the planet. One of them is “Action taken on climate change”:

• Phone and internet access
• Equality between men and women
• Reliable energy at home
• Political freedoms
• Better healthcare
• Action taken on climate change
• Protecting forests, rivers and oceans
• Better transport and roads
• Better job opportunities
• An honest and responsive government
• A good education
• Affordable and nutritious food
• Protection against crime and violence
• Access to clean water and sanitation
• Support for people who can’t work
• Freedom from discrimination and persecution

The poll is unscientific, wide open to abuse (you promise faithfully to vote only once) and globally non-representative (over 80% of the seven million votes so far cast have come from India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Yemen, and almost half of them from just four organizations – the Youth Organization of Mexico City, the Millennium Development Goal groups of Nigeria, the Pakistan Youth Revolution Clan and Action for Pune Development). As we shall see, however, the results still yield some interesting insights.

The graphic below (data from Myworld2015) shows the results of ballots cast to date. “A good education” wins hands down. “Better health care” and “better job opportunities” have a solid hold on second and third and “an honest and responsible government” is all alone in fourth. And where does “action taken on climate change” come in? Despite UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s description of climate change as “the defining issue of our age” it comes in dead last. It seems that an overwhelming majority of Secretary Ban’s constituents disagree with him:

Figure 1:  UN poll rankings by category

However, it’s not unprecedented for climate change to come at or close to the bottom when ranked against other concerns. It’s been a constant occurrence in the Pew poll in the US. Yet it is surprising that a UN poll in which concerned young people (I calculate the average age at around 22) have cast a disproportionate number of votes should show the same result. And climate change doesn’t just come in last overall. It comes in last among male voters, last among female voters, last among poorly-educated voters, last among moderately-well-educated voters, last among well-educated voters and last among every age group except the over-45s, who rank it as more important only than phone and internet access.

Equally surprising is the lack of concern about climate change shown by voters from the countries allegedly most seriously threatened by it. Voters from the Philippines, which was ravaged last year by Typhoon Haiyan, rank the need for action on climate change twelfth out of sixteen. The thirteen Sub-Saharan countries menaced by famine, pestilence and war rank it between eighth and sixteenth. The Maldives – whose Prime Minister held a cabinet meeting under water a few years ago to highlight the perils of rising sea levels – ranks it fourteenth and the submerging Pacific atoll of Kiribati ranks it only eighth, although this could be because the government has already bought a replacement island.

One can of course argue that the UN poll is so grossly unscientific that none of these results mean anything. Yet they conceal a trend that’s difficult to explain as anything other than real. Consider the graphic below:

Figure 2: UN poll rankings by category and voting group

Except for the two upward excursions that reflect the indifference of older voters to internet access the orange-colored “Action taken on climate change” bar hugs the bottom of the chart all the way across – until we get to the HDI categories. HDI stands for “Human Development Index”, which when stripped to its essentials turns out to be basically a measure of how wealthy a country is.

And the wealthier the country the farther climate change moves up the voter priority list.

The possibility of a link between rankings and wealth seemed worth looking into, so I ran some further checks. First I plotted the rankings voters from 183 countries gave to “Action taken on climate change” against the nominal per-capita GDP of the country (2013 IMF data). Note that there is no significant change when the points for India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Yemen, which between them contribute over 80% of the total vote, are removed:

Figure 3:  “Action taken on climate change” ranking by country versus per-capita GDP, all countries

As would be expected the individual points show considerable scatter, but the class averages (red) show a linear decrease in rankings – i.e. the voters become progressively more concerned about climate change – as per-capita GDP increases. It’s hard to see how this could be an artifact of flaws in the polling process, so we can provisionally assume that we are looking at a real effect. And since voter perceptions are unlikely to have an impact on GDP we can further assume that GDP has an impact on voter perceptions, if not a very strong one in this case (correlation coefficient R=0.50).

The world, however, is a heterogeneous place. Figure 4 shows the data for Europe, which provides a more homogeneous sample. The plot shows the data for all European countries except Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Monaco. Countries of interest are labeled:

Figure 4:  “Action taken on climate change” ranking by country versus per-capita GDP, Europe

There is a fairly strong relationship between European voters’ ranking of the need for action on climate change and the per-capita GDP of the country where they live (R=0.75, increasing to 0.82 when two small outlier countries – Luxembourg and Macedonia – are excluded).

Figure 4, however, omits a number of wealthy and/or populous countries outside Europe. I selected eighteen such countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea and the USA) and plotted them up with the results shown below. The trend line shows almost exactly the same gradient as the trend line for the European countries and the correlation coefficient is a very respectable 0.86:

Figure 5:  “Action taken on climate change” ranking by country versus per-capita GDP, 18 wealthy/populous countries outside Europe

Combining the Figure 4 and Figure 5 data sets, which together include the bulk of the world’s population and almost all of its economic output, gives this:

Figure 6:  Figure 4 and Figure 5 data combined

The correlation coefficient for the linear trend line is 0.78, although a logarithmic fit might give a significantly higher one.

What do we conclude from these results? I submit the following:

  • People’s perceptions of the need to take action to combat climate change are directly related to the per-capita GDP of the country in which they live.
  • People in developed countries usually have much higher per-capita GDPs than people in developing countries, therefore they usually give much higher priority to the need to combat climate change than people in developing countries do.

Or boiled down to the basics, people in rich countries care about climate change and people in poor ones don’t.

Which largely explains why twenty years of climate conferences have failed to achieve anything.

(Where do readers of Energy Matters rank the need to take action on climate change on the list of 16 options provided by the UN? Feel free to post a response – a single number will do. Information on per-capita GDP is optional.)

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73 Responses to Poor countries don’t care about climate change

  1. Phil Chapman says:

    If “action on climate change” means curbs on anthropogenic CO2 emissions, I put it at 30th in the list of 16 issues. If it means preparing for the possible new Little Ice Age due to the apparent start of a grand solar minimum and/or (much worse) the current collapse of the geomagnetic field, I would put it at about 5th.

  2. Bill S says:

    The only people I’ve ever known who are on the climate change bus have been selling solar panels. 16

  3. Hi Euan,

    Great post. I would have given property rights a high ranking if it were on the list.


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Dave, noting that this is Roger’s post…..

      I find the summary responses to be very surprising. Folks want an education ahead of electricity, food and clean water! The questions are also badly parsed – some comparative and some absolute. For example Better Healthcare is not a priority for me since I already have access to excellent healthcare. The poll asks for your top 6 priorities, so here are mine.

      Reliable energy at home
      Access to clean water and sanitation
      Affordable and nutritious food
      Protection against crime and violence
      Phone and internet access
      Protecting forests, rivers and oceans

      The first 4 are all to do with guaranteeing my own well being. Those who wish for a better education ahead of having electricity, water, sanitation, food and personal security are clearly in need of one.

      Phone and internet access may seem trivial, but a world without modern communications would not have a modern economy. One of my sons lives in Germany and we Skype every couple of weeks. Without modern coms I’d have to get on a horse and take a boat across the N Sea if I wanted to speak to him. Cell phones in rural Africa are evidently doing much to stimulate economic activity.

      Protecting the environment should be important for us all. Without protective measures in place our forests would all be felled as population grows and our rivers would run like sewers.

      The answer is 16

  4. patmcguinness says:

    Amazing, people leaving close to poverty and desperate for better economic opportunities putting healthcare, food security, good Government and education well above the project to engage in drastic actions to attempt to moderate temperature rises a few tenths of a degree over 70 years.
    What … common sense.

    There is hope for the world yet.

    • Ed says:

      … and increasing their populations from unsustainable levels to even more unsustainable levels. ” Hope for the world yet ” you say. You’ve being ironic, surely. On your other controversial point; you can’t really believe that that the world temperature will only rise a few tenths of a degree C over 70 years ? Conservative IPCC projections are for a 4 degree increase by the end of the century.

      • So what’s your ranking, Ed?

        • ed says:

          Sorry, don’t understand your question, Roger? If you don’t agree with me, give me your arguments and I’ll try to respond in civilized and respectful manner.

          My position is that CO2 and population levels can not be controlled and will not be controlled. We are destined to burn our way through all our fossil fuel reserves. What I won’t do is deny that climate change or population growth or peak oil is a problem. I will continue to call out comments that do. Sorry Roger.

          • Ed. The UK ranks the need for action on climate change ninth out of sixteen in the UN poll, Denmark ranks it third. Djibouti ranks it sixteenth. Where do you rank it? All I need is a number.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Going to ask you for the source of this:

        Conservative IPCC projections are for a 4 degree increase by the end of the century.

        There seems to be a new version of global warming miss information been issued.

  5. Aslangeo says:

    Climate change worries are a symptom of wealthy people – Those of us who are aware (a least from ancestral or parental memory) of what is was like not to have freedom, choice, prosperity, health, education and many other things that spoiled westerners take for granted can take another view on the reealtive importance of such matters

    There is also a separation of concerns about “real pollution” such as NOx, SOx, particulates, smog, water and sewage etc that do immediate damage to real people Vs something which is mainly seen in computer models and may cause a threat in the future.

    Another concept is that climate change is a substitute religion for post Christian people. With climate doomsday a phrase which is especially telling. Carbon offsets acting as medieval stile indulgences for carbon sinning my particular favourite

    What would be interesting is to compare climate change concerns in this survey with the religiousness of a country

    • ed says:

      I’d put it the other way. Religiousness is a way (for a very small percentage of people, I must add) of avoiding personal responsibility for their actions. Why worry about what WE are doing to the planet when we can believe that this extra-terrestrial “creator” will come to our rescue.

    • What would be interesting is to compare climate change concerns in this survey with the religiousness of a country

      Here’s the result:

      It’s been claimed that belief in climate change is a form of religion. These results suggest that religion may also contribute to disbelief in climate change.

      • Javier says:

        Usually religions compete against each other.

        I forgot to tell you my number, Roger. I must be really weird.
        I would rank internet access first. I would really miss that one. Followed by protecting our natural resources. It’s hard to get them back once gone.

        I would rank climate change dead last at 16, together with solar flares and meteorites. Why worry about things that are totally out of our power?

  6. Ted says:

    16. I can’t bring myself to be concerned about an 0.8C rise over more than a century.

  7. Javier says:

    Very interesting, Roger

    I can only add my experience. As a citizen of an EU country moderately worried about climate change I can attest that this concern is coming from top to bottom. We are presented fairly regularly with alarming information about the consequences of global warming from the mass media, scientists and reputable figures. It is quite common that even the weather report will bring the global warming as an explanation for the weather.

    I don’t believe that it is only because we have a higher HDI and we don’t have anything better to worry about. Somehow it has been induced on us to the point that one has to have good reasons not to worry, because the default state is to be concerned about man induced climate change.

    It would be interesting to study why something that has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt gets to be included within the core beliefs of a society. I know it has happened before many times, but it shows that a rational species we are not.

    • Ed says:

      97% of scientists have found evidence of man made climate change. This is peer reviewed research. A rational species would take note of what 97% of our scientists are reporting and ignoring you.

      • Ed,

        unfortunately, we are everything but rational species..


      • Euan Mearns says:

        I believe in Manmade warming of the atmosphere and therefore belong to the 97%. Your are citing a totally meaningless statistic.

      • A C Osborn says:

        Sorry, your 97% has been completely disproved.
        This student must try harder.

      • theProle says:

        And there was me thinking that we employed scientists to do things like find new medicines, or superconducting materials, or even to try and explain how atoms work.

        If 97% of them are actually just agreeing with each other about the climate, them it’s probably time to make most of them redundant!

      • Javier says:

        Oh I am one of those 97%. I know that humankind has caused some global warming. But together with many of those 97% I don’t believe there is evidence that man-induced global warming is responsible for the majority of the observed warming, and I don’t believe there is evidence that we are headed for a man-induced global catastrophe due to man-released CO2 emissions.

        It is important that you ask the right question if you want to get to the truth. The question asked in that flawed study was not the right one to know what exactly 97% of scientists do believe.

    • Phil Chapman says:

      The gullibility of so many people is an old and familiar problem. Anybody who wants to understand the global warming phenomenon should start by reading Charles Mackay’s famous book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” published in 1841 (!!)

      • Euan Mearns says:

        I think we are certainly in a wind bubble. At some point in the not too distant future there will be an awakening at the government level that none of this stuff works and it will get slowly abandoned leaving our countryside and mountains littered with rotting turbines.

  8. I give number 1 to climate change. At the same time, I also add – We are fucked.



  9. Keith Akers says:

    This poll is badly constructed. It shows more about how our minds work and the complexity of the problem, than about what poor people’s priorities are.

    It’s true that some educated people in the West don’t believe in climate change or don’t think it’s that serious. Fine. But put that aside and try, momentarily, to channel Naomi Klein and answer this poll, and you’ll see what’s wrong with it. The poll is saying, in effect, “OK, we can deal with climate change, but you won’t have affordable and nutritious food,” or “but you won’t have political freedom,” or “but you won’t have a job.” Even Naomi Klein would probably say something like, “well, good point, we need all these other things too,” and argue that we need the support of the poor to deal with climate change and need revolutionary change along with all that.

    We are comparing a simple, concrete thing that we know about, to a highly complex and abstract good which we will only see in the indefinite future. We can fry the planet with a runaway greenhouse effect that will wipe out all life on earth in the 22nd century; or we can take away your job. (OK, maybe not quite that bad, but you get the idea.) The problem this post draws attention to is real, but the UN poll is not helpful in understanding it.

    • A C Osborn says:

      Fry the planet????????????????

      • Keith Akers says:

        James Hansen, in “Storms of My Grandchildren,” says we will likely have a runaway greenhouse earth if we burn through all the fossil fuels that we’re physically capable of burning. The reality is probably bad enough, but I am not convinced that this will happen; peak oil and economic collapse will probably “save” us. But when you’re playing with issues of this magnitude, it’s best to be a bit cautious.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          The ice ages were incredibly stormy, unimaginably more stormy than now. Storms are driven by the temperature gradient from tropics to poles and by the temperature gradient through the troposphere that is set by the height of the tropopause – that may just be set by the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere.

  10. I just came across a 2007 Gallup poll that’s somewhat more scientific than the UN poll and which didn’t ask people to rank climate change against other concerns. Among other things it asked individuals in 128 countries whether they felt threatened by climate change and gave country-by-country percentages on the number of people who did. The graphic below plots these percentages against national per-capita GDP (the three wealthy outliers are Luxembourg and – curiously – Norway and Sweden).

    Like the UN poll the results show concern over climate change increasing with increasing GDP, with 75% of respondents in countries with an average per-capita GDP of $30,000 feeling threatened by it compared to only 21% of respondents in countries with an average per-capita GDP of $2,000.

    There no longer seems to be any doubt that the level of concern/wealth relationship is real.

    Poll numbers at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_opinion_by_country

  11. Richard Miller says:

    For me, it’s #2, just behind preservation of woods/rivers/seas.

    I’m not at all surprised that many global citizens ask for other things. For some, climate change just ain’t real – either in the concept or in the available facts. For others, it’s real, but they’d rather get the basics of life before worrying about more distant future. It all feels to me a bit like voting in a life-boat. If 90% of the survivors want to drill a hole in the bottom to drain out the bilges, do you fall in with the majority or try your damnedest to stop the holes being drilled, regardless of being undemocratic?

  12. ducdorleans says:

    the psychologist Abraham Maslow described some 40 to 50 years ago the following phenomenon (I paraphrase a bit …) :

    “when people have gotten rid of their tiny, simple day to day needs (like e.g. have enough food every day to feed the children or themselves), they can take on the really big, existential, human problems (like e.g. saving the world)”

    by lack of a bigger number, for me it is a “16”

    • cynicus says:

      Yes, I guess that the simple daily to day need for trees for hauling statues put the existential problem of long term sustainable forest management on position #16 in the Easter Island community too.

  13. ducdorleans says:

    I already posted this on a few other sites …

    if you want to know what is on EU citizen’s minds, go to the Eurobarometer, organised by the EU Comission itself ( http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb_arch_en.htm )

    somewhere near the bottom of what keeps Europeans out of their sleep is “climate change” and “the environment” …

    • ducdorleans says:

      what I wanted to say with the Eurobarometer is that actually, we Europeans are no different from people in China, India, or even Africa …

      It just “seems” otherwise … “that we care a lot about climate change” ..

      thruth is: hardly a few persons are “busy” with climate change …

      our Government, our media, our Big Green Usual Suspects (WWF, Greenpeace, “Natuurpunt” here in Belgium, etc.) and a few world improvers …

      all in all 5% of the Western European voters …

      but, for one reaseon or the other, they completerly have taken over the public debate …

    • Duc: Thanks for the link to Eurobarometer. A poll it ran in 2011 showed Europeans ranking climate change second out of a list of nine global concerns.

  14. Syndroma says:

    16. I, for one, welcome climate change. It can’t be worse than it already is.

  15. Raff says:

    In the unlikely event that you don’t block this too,…

    As a (hypothetical) resident of a poor country I would not choose climate change either. The effects of climate change are currently nebulous while the effects of the other items listed are concrete. And more to the point, they are all the fault of my own government or are soluble by my own government. Action on climate change requires international, particularly rich country, cooperation. That is not something over which I or my government have much influence. It is like putting Ending War on the list. Anyone in a country where there is war will likely put that first, while those in peaceful countries probably won’t. Everyone still thinks ending war is important, but local priorities dominate.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      In the unlikely event that you don’t block this too,…

      Raff, since I put you on the moderation list we have published all your comments bar 1. So how do you reach the conclusion that it is unlikely that we will approve them? (I don’t expect you to answer that, but I hope you, and others, get my point).

      I do appreciate breadth of opinion, the breadth on this thread is in fact much broader than I would like it to be. I’m sure Roger will do some analysis and discover that it is polarised. There have not been many 7, 8s and 9s.

      Regarding your earlier comment that we declined to publish, it was very polite etc but was asking me to produce evidence to back up claims at a totally unreasonable level. The onus is on YOU as a blogger to produce the evidence to refute what I said. In the case in hand, you need to go off and find evidence for high surface water C that is not linked to deepwater upwelling. I’ve come across several ocean C concentration profiles from all oceans that all show surface waters depleted in C. The physical process is photosynthesis removing C via phytoplankton than then dies and sinks.

      If you have an alternative physical model backed up by data then please present it – on the Vostok thread.

  16. Ed says:

    Sorry Roger, I was on the totally wrong wavelength when you asked “what’s your ranking, Ed”. I thought maybe regular commenters were being given a rankings !! I was being a little defensive in my response. I apologise again.

    To answer your question; 1. Population control 2. Preparation for a decline in fossil fuel production 3. Climate change.

    1. We won’t/can’t control population. This makes the other two problems unsolvable 2. We can only hope to extend the fossil fuel age by a few decades in building out our renewable or nuclear energy production. Nothing can replace fossil fuels in the long term as renewable or nuclear are not self replicating or self sustaining without FFs 3. We will burn all our fossil fuels eventually so there is nothing we can do on climate change.

  17. sam Taylor says:

    I find myself wondering if this is also a measure of how much media coverage climate change gets in various countries, as much as anything else. I’ve a suspicion that perhaps it doesn’t make the new in Nigeria as much as it does in Norway, but perhaps that’s a bias I’m showing.

    It also fuels my suspicion that humans are terrible at accurately assessing long term risk from complex slow moving problems and focus mostly on the short term. The fact that protecting rivers and oceans is so low down, despite the parlous state that many of them are in and how dependant we are on them for our well-being, gives me very little hope. If climate change does turn out to be as bad as some fear, then I doubt that as a species we have the ability to effectively confront and deal with it. Not a great situation when your best hope is that the science is wrong.

    Anyway, I’d have it in the top 4 or 5, along with antibiotic resistance, peak oil, over population and environmental degradation.

  18. Greg Strebel says:

    Perhaps we won’t control population, but we indeed could, and without any coercive (Chinese style ‘one-child’) policies. It is clear that most developed countries are experiencing fertility rates below the level necessary to maintain current populations. Demographers attribute this to ‘our’ relatively wealthy and secure situation, with no economic rationale for having many offspring to care for us once our productive years are over.
    If we could stop the ongoing warmongering and drastically curtail military expenditures we would have much more than needed to guarantee ‘basic needs’ security for every single living person.
    Ironically, military consumption of fossil fuels is part of the problem in so many ways, and so much of that consumption is expended on controlling access to fossil fuels.
    No, we will not burn all of our fossil fuels. At some point the extraction costs for FF will allow competing energy sources to displace them. This may well include algae derived oils, since there will be an ongoing need for ‘energy dense’ media to power transport where pipe and power lines cannot work. Algae can be grown in closed systems on land which is not currently suitable for agriculture (deserts etc).
    IMHO the threat of serious conflict (to the point of nuclear war) is a significantly more imminent threat than climate change. The ongoing demonization of Putin and the Russians as empire building aggressive expansionists hides the reality that NATO has surrounded Russia and is installing first strike capability. The west has broken the promise move not “one thumbs width east” in return for Russian acquiesence to the re-joining of east and west Germany, and has clearly implemented the PNAC plan to assure that no country or aggregation will be able to become an obstacle or threat to their unipolar version of global control.
    Returning to the specific topic of “poor countries don’t care…” my vote is 16.

  19. Results of Energy Matters poll so far. Skeptics well in the lead but a number of “consensus” votes nonetheless. No one in the middle.

    More votes welcome.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Roger, I was surprised to see this and so checked your sums. They are spot on. I get:

      16 * 9 (didn’t count Dave R who I don’t think cast a vote)
      4 * 1 (I’m counting Sam Taylor as a 4)
      3 * 1
      2 * 1
      1 * 1

      Keith Akers and some others forgot to vote. A curious thing is that while reading the thread I felt as though I was under the Green assault. So there is likely some psychology going on here. Those who disagree with “my” position appear more threatening? Those arguing the Green corner doing it more vociferously?

      During the Scottish referendum this year the NO campaign was barely visible. Vociferous and occasionally aggressive YESERS were everywhere. It seemed like they were taking over. And yet lost quite badly to the silent majority. We have an election next year. The Tories would do well to stand on a “get rid of the green crap” platform. And to do it in a way that actually shows higher regard for the environment. Start with littering and illegal dumping. Sensible controls on pollution (air, water and land) and forest management and wildlife protection.

      • Sam Taylor says:


        I think that the psychology behind the climate debate is one of it’s more fascinating aspects. There’s clearly a lot of subconcious stuff going on on both sides, things like normalcy bias, threat filtering, grouping behaviour and goodness only knows what other ingrained cognitive and cultural biases. And a lot of Dunning Kruger running rampant in the blog-world (again, on both sides) to boot.

        I can’t really think of any other scientific debate of this magnitude which has caused such deep divide. Didn’t germ theory, plate tectonics and vaccines eventually win out with overpowering evidence. Yet here we are, with many intelligent rational individuals on both sides, with the same data, coming to sometimes completely opposite conclusions. I guess it’s a hazard of dealing with an incredibly complex system with limited data and understanding.

    • Javier says:

      I was probably a 6 or 7 before I started reading your and Euan’s posts in this blog. You certainly did not convince me, but made me look myself into the available evidence from a field that is far from my area of expertise. I was very surprised to see that it was mostly model based. IMHO models are only good to test our level of knowledge, and climatologists come out of the test badly lacking, but what should I know? I am an experimentalist.

      By the way, my main concern is completely absent of that list and that is even more worrisome. Where is peak oil? That is what is likely to kill a good chunk of humankind (me included, probably).

      • Javier:

        You certainly did not convince me, but made me look myself into the available evidence from a field that is far from my area of expertise. I was very surprised to see that it was mostly model based. IMHO models are only good to test our level of knowledge, and climatologists come out of the test badly lacking,

        If this post made just one person look at the evidence then it was worth writing.

      • L Racine says:

        Having worked with air dispersion modeling in the mid 1980 I too “smile” when I see the results of modeling… but modeling is a tool to make you consider effects you may not otherwise have taken into consideration. The human brain can only process so many variables at one time…..

        Links to measured data.




        Serenity… having the courage and grace to accept the things you can not change.

  20. John Reid says:

    Hi Euan, this is my first post. It’s a bit off-thread but I couldn’t get it up on the Vostok thread so I m posting it here

    I am a physicist with a background in statistics and spectral analysis. I have long been interested in climate “cycles” and I have come to the conclusion that, for the most part, we are actually dealing with red or pink noise. This is particularly true of the 100,000 year eccentricity eccentricity “cycle”. I believe the ice age “cycles” are band-limited red noise with small coherent signals at the obliquity and precession frequencies. These signals only account for a small proportion of the total variance.

    See my (new this week) blog http://blackjay.net and the pages “Pause for Thought” and “Bounded Random Walk”.

  21. A C Osborn says:

    Euan, I did not post my “Position” on Climate change” as I am sure you are aware by now it is about 2000th, but as the list only goes to 16 that is what it has to be.

    Did you also note that the list does not include Government/NGO Waste of Money/Corruption, the world would be a lot better place if the cash actually went where it was needed and on what it was needed for.

  22. Lars says:

    Action taken on climate change – 16

    It shouldn`t be on the list at all, it`s just a gigantic waste of money.

  23. Keith Akers says:

    Don’t get me started on how badly constructed this poll is!! Oops — too late.

    All right, here are my votes in this badly-constructed poll. Its construction was even worse than I thought, because numerous individual items conceal huge issues, and there are issues which are left out (like, how about peak oil and population control?).

    1. Access to clean water and sanitation. Because, without water, I’ll be dead in a week or so.
    2. Affordable and nutritious food. But, animal products are not nutritious, so this means support for a vegan / mostly vegan diet only.
    3. Support for people who can’t work. Because, we don’t want people to work. We want to destroy the consumer economy, except for the bare minimum — a “basic income.”
    4. Protecting forests, rivers, and oceans. In the USA, this means that we abandon most of the country in the High Plains, and let it revert to natural vegetation. Bring back the “buffalo commons.” Grazing cattle will be prohibited, most grazing lands will revert to forests resulting in marked improvement in water quality, and the Colorado River actually flows to the sea.
    5. Equality between men and women. Because, this is the closest thing we’ve got in this poll to population control.
    6. A good education. Because, this is the second closest thing we’ve got to population control.
    7. Action taken on climate change. Because otherwise, you’re going to burn coal to get reliable energy at home.
    8. Reliable energy at home. How about thorium nuclear reactors? This will give us a century or so to figure something else out. Also, this is the closest thing we’ve got to “dealing with peak oil.”
    9. Protection against crime and violence. Because now that I’ve got something worth protecting, I want to protect it.
    10. Better health care. But see above, this means a dramatic fall-off in meat consumption.
    11. Phone and internet access. Because this way, I can talk to people, and at this point, I actually have a reason to.
    12. Freedom from discrimination and persecution.
    13. Political freedoms.
    14. An honest and responsive government. I know there is technically a difference between these last three items, but I don’t have time to parse out the difference. Now that I’ve got something worth protecting, and protection, I am beginning to think that maybe it’s worth it to get worried about politics.
    15. Better transport and roads.
    16. Better job opportunities. This is last, because once I’ve got access to a basic income and food, I don’t care about a job, just so long as I’m not discriminated against in whatever system you set up to get things done (whether it’s our glorious free enterprise system, drafting people to be farmers, or whatever). Hopefully, Social Security is included in this.

    My priorities are not perfect, and they also conceal a number of issues, but I hope that it is abundantly clear at this point that there are multiple problems with this poll. It might be the starting point for a discussion of “how to solve all the world’s problems,” but it is just ghastly as a way of sorting out priorities. Also, this allows me to put climate change as priority #7, thus alleviating the complaint that “no one is putting climate change in the middle.”

    I don’t really want to raise the issue of veganism on a post which was originally about poor countries resisting climate action. However, this poll, and the request for ranking, forces me to do this and raise other issues like population and peak oil. Obviously, most people will disagree with me on the vegetarian / vegan stuff. They may say that nutritious food means more meat, better health care means affordable bypass surgery for all, we should add statins to all the drinking water, and healthy forests and rivers need cattle. Fine. If you interpret these items that way, then I will demote the items on food, protecting forests, etc., and just bump up climate change. Livestock agriculture is a key cause of climate change (see the Goodland and Anhang article in WorldWatch magazine, Nov.-Dec. 2009).

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hi Keith, a response like this is valuable and appreciated! I was going to try and rank everything like this but then noticed the poll asked only for top 6 priorities – which was easier to handle. I agree quite strongly with you on three fundamental points:

      1) the poll is extremely badly constructed which raises serious issues about the caliber of folks employed by the UN
      2) I won’t go along with vegan diet but agree that a reduction in eating intensively reared meat would be good at multiple levels. One of my sons is home at the moment. He’s never really liked meat and has learned a range of vegetarian dishes. His vegetable curries are great!
      3) This is actually a peak oil site, but with a different edge. We are experiencing multiple traumas to global system at present one of which is competition for resources.
      3a) I agree that Thorium and other closed cycle nuclear technologies should be given some priority.

      I am trying to describe the complex framework in the hope that others might see an issue and how best to tackle it. We are still at the point where most Keynesian economists believe that low energy prices are a good thing. There is big education job to be done against a very difficult and awkward backdrop. Just tonight the UK news was celebrating UK inflation dropping to recent record lows, oblivious to the fact that deflation is the enemy all OECD economies are fighting.

    • Keith: Thank you for that thoughtful vote. Hope you don’t mind being all alone in the middle.

      • L Racine says:

        He is not alone, I concur with his post and would rank the issues in like manner, please add a second vote to the middle.

  24. Gareth says:

    No warming for 18 years. No action required.

  25. Pingback: The Nature of the “Scientific Consensus” on Climate Change | Energy Matters

  26. Time to wrap up the voting, I think. Here are the results. A bimodal (trimodal?) distribution.

    Sixteens dominate, as might be expected, but some respondents rank action on climate change close to the top of the priority list, showing that Energy Matters still attracts people from both sides of the climate change debate (and from the middle – thank you Keith Akers and L Racine). That’s an encouraging outcome.

    But still only one respondent – Alexander Ač – ranks action on climate change number one on the list, and his rationale (we are all doomed to be forcibly impregnated) is a little hard to follow.

  27. Max Beran says:

    Euan has been asking what the data say about how and why certain opinions are formed and so stoutly adhered to. I think the urge to be well thought of has a bearing here – being a so-called bien-pensant. You know, expressing the sort of opinion one has to on the “Any Questions” programme in order to get a round of applause.

    And in this regard, there is another issue on the list – the one about equality between men and women – which I judge to hold a similar appeal to an aspiring “bien pensant”. I note an interesting relationship with wealth and with education and is highest in those categories where climate change issue is lifted off the bottom of the table. I wonder if Roger has done any work on this (or could do if he hasn’t).

    Max (No 16)

    • The urge to be well thought of is caused by peer pressure. The same urge motivates scientists to say the right things when they submit a paper for peer review.

      Figure 2 shows a relationship between climate change and national wealth in the UN poll but no relationship with educational level, although pollsters claim to have detected a correlation between belief in climate change and educational level in the US. No prizes for guessing which way it goes.

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