A new study has found that while many may stereotype climate change sceptics as conservative white men, that’s only part of the truth, with the political party people support found to be a much stronger marker of views on climate change than gender, age or race.
However, the same research shows that if you do accept the scientific evidence that humans are the main cause of climate change it does not follow that you lead a greener private lifestyle.
They found that political affiliation was a much larger determinant of a person’s willingness to accept humanity’s role in climate change than other social fault lines.
Conservative voters were more likely to be sceptical, while progressive voters typically believed the science.
Other variables such as age, gender, education, income and race had a much lower, and often negligible, impact.
The same was also true for individual experiences of extreme weather events.
“Although a ‘conservative white male’ profile has emerged of climate change sceptics in the United States, our analysis of polls across multiple nations suggests that the ‘conservative’ part of that equation would seem to be more diagnostic than the ‘white male’ part,” finds the paper, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change today.
Professor Matthew Hornsey, a psychology expert at the University of Queensland and one of the authors of the study, told Fairfax Media climate science was far too complex for the vast majority of people to be totally across, meaning for most it was a matter of trust.
Some have an implicit trust in scientists and their methods, he said, but others turned to “gut feelings that are largely about their values, their politics, their world view”.
“Age, sex and race aren’t the issue: it’s your deeper philosophies about the free market, about big versus small government, about individualistic versus socialistic ways of responding to societal problems, about whether or not you have a moral suspicion of industry,” Professor Hornsey told Fairfax Media.
Last year an analysis of five CSIRO climate surveys, a program now axed, found barely a quarter of conservative Liberal-National voters accepted humanity was mostly responsible for climate change, as opposed to 59 per cent of Labor voters and 76 per cent of Australian Greens Party supporters.
The study shows that accepting climate change did not necessarily make you greener, at least in your home life.
While those who accept human’s role in climate changes were more likely to take more public action, such as signing petitions or joining demonstrations, that was not necessarily replicated in private action, such as cutting energy use at home and using public transport over the car.
Professor Hornsey said this was partly about barriers to action, such as not having access to public transport.
“In Australia it was striking how concern about climate change coexisted with resentment about paying the now defunct carbon tax,” Professor Hornsey said.