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Most Australians overestimate how ‘green’ they really are

Most Australians overestimate how much they are doing for the environment compared to others, and are more concerned about water shortages, pollution and household waste than climate change, a new CSIRO…

More than half of Australians say they recycle for mostly environmental reasons. Shutterstock/spwidoff

Most Australians overestimate how much they are doing for the environment compared to others, and are more concerned about water shortages, pollution and household waste than climate change, a new CSIRO survey reveals.

Taken over a period of July to August last year, it is the latest in a series of annual national surveys on Australians' attitudes to climate change involving more than 5000 people from across urban, regional, and rural Australia. (You can read about past survey results here and here.)

More than 70% of people said they thought climate change was an important issue, which has remained consistently the case since we first asked this question in 2010.

However, compared to many other issues including health, costs of living and other environmental issues such as drought, we found that climate change was considered to be much less of a concern.

Biased towards ourselves

The way we perceive ourselves and others can influence how we respond to contested issues, including climate change. However, these perceptions are subject to cognitive biases or distortions as we attempt to make sense of the world around us.

Misperceptions about what others think about climate change extend to misperceptions about what others do.

One of the questions we asked people in this latest survey was what they were doing in their everyday lives to respond to climate change, and why.

For example, did they always recycle their household waste, had they installed solar panels, or had they changed their diet? The results are shown below.

What environmental actions people said they were doing in their everyday lives. CSIRO

When we added up all the actions people said yes to (regardless of why they were doing them), we found a normal distribution of responses: a few people did not much of anything; quite a lot of people did a moderate amount; and a few people did a great deal.

We then asked our respondents this question: “How much do you think you do compared to the average Australian: a lot less, a little less, about the same, a bit more, or a lot more?” Here’s what they said.

How much environmental action the survey respondents thought they took, compared with an average Australian. CSIRO

So how good were our 5000 respondents at guessing how they compared with others? To find out, we cross-referenced what people said they did with their estimates of how they compared with an average Australian.

Just under one-quarter (21.5%) got it about right: regardless of how many actions they performed, their assessment of where they stood in relation to other people was fairly accurate.

The same amount (21.5%) were what we might call “self-deprecating”: they undervalued their comparative performance.

But more than half our participants (57.1%) were “self-enhancing”: they tended to overestimate how much environmental action they were compared to others.

Research tells us that it’s not just the environment where we tend to think we’re better than others.

The “better than average effect” describes our predisposition to think of ourselves as exceptional, especially among our peers. The effect reflects our tendency to think of ourselves as more virtuous and moral, more compassionate and understanding and (ironically) as less biased than other people.

In a famous example, when people were asked to assess their own driving ability relative to peers, more than three-quarters of people considered themselves to be safer than the average driver.

Dr Zoe Leviston discusses some of the findings of CSIRO’s fourth annual survey of Australian attitudes towards climate change.

How important is climate change?

When we asked people how important climate change was, just over 70% of people rated it as “somewhat”, “very”, or “extremely” important. That importance rating has remained unchanged when we first asked this back in 2010.

But this year we also asked people to rank the importance of climate change relative to a list of 16 general concerns in society, including health, the cost of living, and the economy. When framed in these relative terms, climate change was ranked as the third least important issue.

How people ranked a list of general and environmental concerns. CSIRO

Similar to previous years, we found the majority of respondents (81%) think the Earth’s climate is changing, and people are more likely to think that human activity is the cause (47%) as opposed to natural variations in temperature (39%). When we look at repeat respondents (those people who participated in more than one of our surveys), we find no significant changes since 2010, although there was a very slight increase in the small proportion of people who say they “don’t know”.

Other changes have been slight, but noteworthy. There has been an increase in the levels of responsibility individuals feel to respond to climate change. People have also become more trusting about information from environmental and government scientists.

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120 Comments sorted by

  1. Mike Stasse

    Retired Energy Consultant

    I find it SO ironic that people simply don't realise that if they ACTUALLY lived more sustainably, all those things they are concerned about, health, the cost of living, employment, electricity prices, the cost of housing, water, waste..... simply disappear!

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      It is not that everybody would not like to live more sustainably Mike but most will never likely have the opportunity, land and housing costs being a factor and it also something of a challenge for people to give up what could be called the average lifestyle of work, get paid and spend to live.
      Then of course there will always be those who would ask what is living sustainably all about?
      It certainly will not necessarily be a cure all.

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    2. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Housing costs? WHAT housing costs...? I made my own opportunities. And I did what I did on just $150,000.... all it takes is thinking outside the square for a change, best thing I ever did...

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      I'm something of a DIY er too Mike and then there are far more people about who'll never raise $5000 to their name let alone $150,000 or have the credit rating to borrow some.
      Then as for thinking on DIY for some, if you asked a few about a Chisel, they would get hot and cold on rock bands and that's not building a rock walled fire pit either.
      But I agree, there's nothing like forging your own way with things.

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    4. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Individual actions are beyond useless at this point, we need structural reform - the rest is just feel goodism

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    5. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Surely individual actions are not as useless as you suggest Michael?

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    6. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Oops I meant to add to previous comment. I agree that structural change-national and international action must do most of the heavy lifting. But individual action is not "beyond useless" in my view. We can each, in our limited way, become greener and we can and do, have a wider effect. See for instance:

      http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/david-vs-goliath-solar-shapes-up-to-big-utilities-13180

      .http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/ational-electricity-market-heat-waves-slow-stop-fall-demand-emissions-75888

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    7. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      You have to look at the larger picture, we need to be beyond zero emmissions by 2050 - this isn't going to be acheived by individual actions

      it requires collective action and large structural changes in society

      As an example; you are never going to get a large portion of rental owners to install insulation without regulation - because their rental is an investment, and currently installing insulation is dead money to the owner.

      Individuals organising for action to bring about the changes…

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    8. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Sorry, I didn't see your follow up comment til after I posted my response.

      The main problem with what you propose is that it is a great idea for the middle class and up.

      I am reminded of a documentary of flooding in jarkata where the reporter spoke to a poor family in the worse affected area having to wash her clothes in the flood water because there was no access to fresh water - the flood water had sewage and garbage, etc - the poor women was struggling to get by and when asked what was the…

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    9. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      By definition any action an individual takes is an individual action

      however I would suggest that voting is an individual being involved in a collective action

      joining a lobbying group such as Greenpeace is an individual action as wel, individuals coming together to take collective action

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    10. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Yeah from little things big things grow, we are all standing on the shoulder and all that

      But all that happens when you move beyond individual action to a collective action

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    11. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Isn't it a matter of needing BOTH individual and systemic action URGENTLY!

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    12. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Sure, Michael, but isn't group action mainly the sum of individual action, even though it's impact is greater than the sum of its parts?

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    13. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Well I feel we might be talking the same point but semantics are getting in the way.

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    14. Pythinia Preston

      writer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Sort of a herd like instinct is what you want, go with the crowd otherwise individual action is useless?

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    15. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "go with the crowd otherwise individual action is useless? " - I am not sure what you are talking about, more to the point I am not sure you know what you are talking about

      organising for action is not the same as following a herd

      Women's sufferage organised for action - certainly not following the herd

      Gay rights activists organise for action and again, this is not following the herd

      If you want to achieve something you need to organise and you need a collective, no man is an island

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    16. Bronwyn OBrien

      Admin Assistant

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      If every individual used much less water, electricity and fuel all the time for a long time surely this would have some kind of impact eventually. Wouldn't it?

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    17. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      I agree Felix and that is why, like you, I have taken action to green my life, because I contend the individual can make a (limited but worthwhile) difference.

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    18. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Well it sure could Bronwyn and you do not even have to be a home owner to do some things.
      For instance, because my water supply is rainfall dependent, I take sailors'showers and that's if you do not know, having a quick wet down for say twenty seconds or whatever and then turning of the tap to soap up and have a scrub and a far better cleansing you will find is achieved too for you do not have continually running water taking the suds away.
      So after having your soapy sudsy scrub for a few minutes or however long you feel, you then just rinse off.
      Even for a renter, having water run for say a minute or two max compared to five or ten minutes will cut their water useage and power bills and they get a better clean while doing it.
      Try it and you'll be amazed.
      Where Mike is coming from though is that people generally can be lazy and less committed unless they have something driving them, hence the need for BB and regs etc.

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    19. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      I would agree that many if not most people have the capacity to do some things Suzy if not so many and then in addition to knowledge and will or commitment, some things will have a $$$ cost to them.

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    20. Chris Harries

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Exactly, Bronwyn.

      The lame argument that individual action is not worthwhile because their government isn't taking appropriate action is exactly the same faulty logic that Australia should take no leadership because China isn't.

      But this isn't a get-out-of-gaol argument for government, what it means is that leadership is necessary at EVERY level of society. If we meekly let ourselves off the hook then we also fail the test of leadership and we shouldn't expect better of anyone else.

      In every Tragedy-Of-The-Commons crisis there is a tendency for all of the players to point the finger at everyone else. That's exactly what is happened with climate change on the global front,... and even on the local front.

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    21. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      I've seen some coverage of that flooding too Henry and by all accounts it can only get worse unless some drastic inundation engineering works are done.
      It all looked rather grim and though I missed the reporter's encounter, I did see where it was a Dutch based crowd working on dredging out some major drains and what was also apalling was how there were kids everywhere waiting to pounce on the muck heaps of the dredging to scavenge what they could, they making something from the recycling I suppose being the silver lining if you could call it that.
      As to your 30C night, I know it would depend on what sort of a rental one was in but if as a landlord I had an approach from a tenant who was prepared to commit to a longer leasing arrangement and pay a little more, I would consider what could make a place more livable re insulation or whatever.

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    22. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "I know it would depend on what sort of a rental one was in but if as a landlord I had an approach from a tenant who was prepared to commit to a longer leasing arrangement and pay a little more"

      I could only hope others were as reasonable as you were but that hasn't been my experience. I am hoping as heatwaves continue to increase that the market would start to take energy effeciency into account, ie. listing insulation on the ad would be followed by increased demand for that house, and as such increased rental price - which I think is perfectly reasonable

      I would still like to see regulation so that those on the bottom end of the market, the disadvantaged are not further disadvantaged.

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    23. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Thats right, unfortunately humans are not robots and it has been proven time and time again that these types of assumptions fall short.

      It is the same arguments that are used to justify free markets, that people will do the right thing if left alone....they don't, without incentive, humans tend not to do the right thing

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    24. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Indeed. But we also need people to take what remain essentially individual actions as well.

      A simple example: changing to energy efficient light bulbs absolutely will NOT save the world, but it's still worth doing, mainly because the cumulative effect of all (or most) of us doing so becomes quite significant and, I believe, the situation is so serious that we need EVERYTHING we can get!

      Besides, and maybe most importantly, it's not as if doing one PREVENTS us from doing the other - I mean I can change my lightbulbs, vote, agitate for my super fund to divest from fossil fuel investments, etc. simultaneously. In fact, I believe there is some evidence (but I can't quote the sources) to suggest that acting on one dimension encourages you to act on others, so it may be a kind of virtuous cycle.

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    25. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Yeah, but they're pretty important semantics!

      I think we're all too given to a kind of despairing 'That's no use, that will never solve the problem, what we need is...' kind of approach when, in fact, no single thing will solve the problem in and of itself. Actions don't necessarily need to happen in a particular sequence (which is just as well because, though I'd agree that the right sequence can be more efficient, history suggests that most things tumble along in a right bugger's muddle and stagger across the finish line).

      To reduce it, if you like, to a simple slogan, I like: "Not either/or, but both/and".

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    26. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      ...apart from which, if it really comes to it, I'd rather go down swinging than whingeing!

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    27. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Greg - we seem to be agreeing for a change!

      There's a really natty little Australian invention you can get called an Every Drop Shower Saver. I hope it's okay to do a plug: http://www.showersaver.com.au/

      I have one at home and it works a treat. I couldn't do the sailor's shower bit without it as the hot/cold water balance with my local plumbing is fiddly, and you spend more time trying to readjust the temperature than you saved turning the water off!

      If you like cute toys, there's also a lovely little gizmo called a Joey Can (also Australian): http://www.abc.net.au/tv/newinventors/txt/s3252954.htm
      Okay, you CAN do this with a bucket bu tI just love this little thing and couldn't resist rewarding its inventors with a purchase!

      It's easy to dismiss these kinds of things as trivial (and they ARE pretty minor) but the point is that it costs bugger all to do it and at least has SOME positive impact so, frankly, you'd be a bit of a hypocrite or a lazy sod not to!

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    28. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "To reduce it, if you like, to a simple slogan, I like: "Not either/or, but both/and"."

      Hey, you know me and simple slogans, fish in water!

      I completely agree

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    29. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      As long as the discussions keep this reality in mind would be my only concern

      The idea that doing one might encourage you to do the other is nice, there is anothre phenomenon where merely telling people that you are going to start excersising in the morning gives you the same feeling of achievement as having actually done it and that this leads to people being less motivated to actually doing it.

      so the idea that changing your light bulbs would encourage you to follow up with other actions is great, I hope it's true but I see it could just as easily give people the feeling they have done their part

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    30. Bronwyn OBrien

      Admin Assistant

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Must say I agree with you there Michael. I just hope that eventually we can all start taking earth preservation a lot more seriously. (Me included. I'm definitely not as 'green' as I think I should be). I fear that one day society will be forced to create extremely hash laws to ensure the survival of the human race. Maybe one day people won't have a choice to be 'green', they'll just have to be, who knows?

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    31. Bronwyn OBrien

      Admin Assistant

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Perhaps if everyone 'does their bit' it could at least contribute to an overall attitude towards climate change. Everyone being aware and at least trying is surely better than nothing. I do agree though that individual contribution itself cannot make the impact needed to save the world, as it were. Governments and industries need to take it a lot more seriously too.

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    32. Bronwyn OBrien

      Admin Assistant

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      As a renter I relate. Having to pay for stuff like water usage and emission causing utilities is a great incentive for us poor asses to use less. Just wish those multi-million dollar emission spewing industries. had the same level of incentive to preserve energy as we do. :)

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    33. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "You have to look at the larger picture, we need to be beyond zero emmissions by 2050 - this isn't going to be acheived by individual actions"

      It can only be achieved by individual actions. Zero emissions are impossible, which is why we need to move sooner to very low emissions if nitigation is the goal. Based on historical perspective, Government has been advised for decades of the issue, the response ? Emissions have increased. We need societal collapse to achieve anything. We either manage…

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    34. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Ummm individual action cannot make the big changes needed to address this issue

      We need things like environmental regulation on business for a starters - this cannot be done by individuals, most business in this world cannot be publicly shamed out of their ways because they do not have a public persona, they sell to other companies, not to the public.

      Individual action is great but we need the structural changes, I can give other examples if needed

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    35. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      ""it requires collective action and large structural changes in society"

      Agreed and "collective" is just a group of individuals. " - then we agree we need big changes that can't be done by individuals alone, we need collective action

      seeing as we agree, no need for further discussion on this topic

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    36. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      If you are a nihilist, that is we are all doomed and nothing anyone does can get us to where we need to be...then stop commenting

      there have been a few on this website that have had similar approaches, going around telling everyone its all hopeless and doomed so stop trying and just worry about yourself

      to them I say - take your own advice, why are you going around doing something completely pointless

      it's like those religious folk who say that hevean is a better place....well let me help you get there

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    37. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "it is the will and knowledge that may be lacking"

      I don't agree at all. There are a whole swage of people who post articles and comments here for example that know CO2e emissions reductions are needed and yet they keep emitting prodigiously. These people will fly for holidays, drive cars all over the place, have a meat eating pet, use electricity for an A/Cs, consume items shipped from all over the world, etc all the while asking for reduction targets. How they square that peg in the round hole of cognitive dissonance has been long studied by psychologists.

      Professor Kevin Anderson:
      "The challenge is way beyond anything we're prepared to countenance as yet, both in terms of mitigation and in terms of adaptation"

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    38. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      As long as we recognise that individual actions will not save the day....which they won't, we need the governments to take action

      I don't think many people are advocating that because the government isn't doing anything I should, I think what they are saying, or atleast what I am saying is, don't get to caught up in trying to reduce your own footprint as your time and energy would be better spent trying to affect larger change.

      ie. don't leave society and camp out in your own little world with a zero carbon footprint - we need you to help lobby your government

      at the same time, don't beat yourself up too much if you can't reduce your emmissions as much as you or others would like, there are bigger issues than your own footprint

      Your time and energy may have greater impact on a community level rather than at an individual level

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    39. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Hi trevor, yes, i know some people who would fit that description and they do lack the will or the applied knowledge (i'm not saying they are stupid, far from it) to act more effectively - we are all selfish to some degree, and convinced of our entitlements, which seems easily justified if you live in such a privileged state.

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    40. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      we need you to help lobby your government

      Michael........ I did this for TWENTY YEARS. Now I'm exhaustipated. Too tired to give a shit.

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    41. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Trevor, thank you for that link...... Anderson is saying basically exactly the same thing I concluded 4 or 5 years ago.

      I happen to believe that we are about to hit economic collapse.... and THAT will do the trick. We don't need economic growth, and it's a total myth that such growth brings prosperity. All growth does is line the pockets of the 1%.....
      Have a listen to this...:
      http://www.ecoshock.net/eshock14/ES_140205_Show.mp3

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    42. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Yeah we get it your old and useless now, if you are too tired to give a shit then stop complaining, go find a pleasant way to end it all

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  2. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    The distribution re thoughts on what is being done for the environment would seem to be typical of the 80/20 or 20/80 rule in that a few are doing more.
    I imagine though a few may do quite a bit, the 80 is not so much just a thought and more that most people just live to live without really considering whether they are green or not.
    Then there will always be differences in living styles, some wanting bigger houses and then those living on even small acreage blocks might recycle more and even have…

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  3. Peter Campbell

    Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

    As usual with surveys, I would have found it hard to know how to answer some of those questions. For many I would have wanted to say 'both'. While there is no direct personal benefit for some, there is an upfront cost off-set by long-term savings for most.
    I have done most of the things on the list. Yes, I recycle, try to fix things, prefer the more efficient appliance even if a bit more expensive, insulated the house really well, drive a fully battery electric car, purchase GreenPower electricity…

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    1. Victor Jones

      Freelance

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      How long has Climate Chest been operating?

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    2. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      Work on C3 has been going for a few years. They had to get structures in place to administer it and a ruling from the tax office on the deductibility and so on. It was founded and is administered by the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) and the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group. C3 started offering greenpower and carbon offsets sometime last year I believe. Later last year other local groups with an interest in environmental matters were invited to become 'community agents' who could promote C3 to their members, friends and their local community through 'skinned' versions of the C3 website. I am a member of SEE-Change which is in Canberra so when I buy C3 greenpower 10% is donated to SEE-Change. We have only just announced this to our members in the last few days. You don't need to be a member of anything though. At the end of the process you can choose to have a small part go as a donation to one or other of the participating organisations.

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    3. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      Yesterday there was some technical glitch with the web site, working for some and not other. I believe it is fine now.

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    4. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      Yes. I have cancelled my 7.5c/kWh with ACTEWAGL and now do it through C3. The only negative I can think of is that having it done automatically through the retailer might be preferable for those who might forget or not get around to doing GreenPower more actively next time. You can however set a reminder at the end of the process for 3 months, 6 months or a year.

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  4. Claire Harris

    logged in via Twitter

    Thanks for this article. I'm interested to know is it possible to weight the ranking of concerns based on how interconnected they are? For example, economy is affected (or will likely be more and more) by climate change and other things like employment. And there are vice versas.

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  5. Urs Baumgartner

    Consultant for Environment and Sustainability

    Very interesting article and so much information in there!

    For example only looking at "there was a very slight increase in the small proportion of people who say they “don’t know”" already explains more than a thousand words. I wonder if scraping the Climate Commission will help to better educate us and being prepared for the future?

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  6. John Newlands

    tree changer

    Green delusions are everywhere. Someone told me because they'd put home grown lettuce on a sandwich also comprising bread, butter, ham, cheese and pickles they they were self sufficient in food. Even in the darkest recession coal will still be generating most of our electricity. Solar panel owners like to think because they may produce a modest excess of electricity during the day they are somehow helping run aluminium smelters at night. I suggest it's a form of denial not far removed from climate change denial. Hopefully things will get real.

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    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to John Newlands

      "Green delusions are everywhere. I am now going to make up a rediculous storey about someone pretending to be green and then call it rediculous, see how clever I am and what sort of people I hang out with"

      Well done mate

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    2. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to John Newlands

      And better still Michael if you can alibi yourself by criticizing others while contributing stuff all yourself.

      Just do your best and stop complaining.

      Be philosophical, fatalistic even.

      The future might even be exciting.

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    3. Pythinia Preston

      writer

      In reply to John Newlands

      I suspect you are one of those 'shoppers' who at the supermarket fill their trolleys with plastic bags that will eventually end up in the sea or the landfill - and I suspect you will not know what will happen then.

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    4. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to John Newlands

      Well then you are by definition are being purely speculative

      I can speculate about you to but that doesn't seem to be a very constructive thing to do

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    5. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to John Newlands

      " Even in the darkest recession coal will still be generating most of our electricity. "
      I suspect coal will be generating less and less John as ageing power stations become more geriatric and governments remain greenstrung as to building new base load power stations.
      It's a bit like stretching a rubber band at the moment and having less of a bundle to put them about for loss of manufacturing and more people going without because of the electricity cost will see the bands eventually perish as life becomes ever more interesting.

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    6. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to John Newlands

      I have solar panels John but I am under no illusion about my individual impact. I can't speak for others but I have sized my system to generate a high proportion of our daytime use. It does not pay to supply excess to the grid. But the evidence is that we ARE making a difference and the power companies do not like it, as per my post where I supplied a few links which support this.

      The growth of renewables is such that perhaps there will not be more coal fired power stations built in Australia.

      So I would suggest that in maybe 20-30 years the proportion of power from coal will be gradually reducing.

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  7. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Yeah, 2 problems;

    1) We are beyond the point where individual actions make any discernable difference, we need to replace the coal plants and the oil our cars run on - so even if you are green as shiz, whop-de-flippin-do

    2) If you ask a room full of people whether they are above average on almost any subject, more than half the room will put their hand up

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  8. Sarah Glass
    Sarah Glass is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired scientist/technologist

    Well it is heartening at least to see that a majority of people at least accept there is a problem.

    The reason that it is not high on the agenda is probably because it is not high on the media agenda. Look at the mainstream press and there is seldom much of a mention and neither party spoke about it during the election, so it is off the radar.

    As for people having a slanted view of their contribution, in my experience, people have slanted views about a lot of things. Slanted generally to what will benefit them in one way or another, or slanted away from taking responsibility for their actions, so simply a human failing me thinks.....

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    1. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      As John Newlands says above, it seems to be all about feel-goodism, i.e. self-delusion. Living where we do, my wife and I have no choice but to be self-sufficient in water, power and sewage, and we grow a large proportion of our food, but that is simply out of the question for city dwellers, i.e. society at large, and is a luxury, taking up most of our time. Those people who want reduced power costs, while at the same time hoping to see a reduction in fossil-fuel burning, dwell in a fantasy world…

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    2. Hugh McColl

      Geographer

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Paul, if you ". . have no way of confirming the truth of his claims", why would you allow them to enhance your cynicism? You imply that you are prepared to believe any old crap you are told - which is fine by me; thousands of Alan Jones listeners do this every day and their bile, bigotry and cynicism doesn't affect the world a jot as far as I know.
      But it does mean that people who are so easily influenced (or conned) could be doing themselves a disservice. For example, you might start to think…

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      The evidence on recycling is clear and positive. accounting (as far as one can) for all the inputs and impacts, recycling an aluminium can into new cans uses only about 5% of the emissions as making that can from bauxite ore. Other kinds of recycling are less positive, and a few aren't much better than break even, but it is simply an urban legend that recycling has a negative impact.

      And that's ignoring issues like materials and toxics in landfill, etc.

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    4. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Well, Hugh, that's why I posted my comment - in the hope of eliciting a knowledgeable response. While I agree fully with you about large-scale recycling, e.g. car bodies, ship hulks etc., I'm still not sure about urban schemes involving massive trucks trundling around neighbourhoods collecting bins of scrap paper, cans (often dirty), old milk cartons etc.. We hear and see them, and feel all warm and glowy inside, but is that sort of activity really environmentally cost-effective? Has anyone done even an economic cost analysis, to determine if it pays for itself cash-wise? Or is it purely a political exercise, to show off governments' green credentials?

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    5. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      A quick google search found a mixed bag but .."two of the nation’s most influential environmental organizations, each issued reports detailing the benefits of recycling and showing how municipal recycling programs reduce pollution and the use of virgin resources while decreasing the sheer amount of garbage and the need for landfill space -- all for less, not more, than the cost of regular garbage pick-up and disposal".

      Michael Shapiro, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office…

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    6. Chris Harries

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Paul, if its useful, a local council officer in my area (Hobart region) undertook such a study and found that municipal recycling in that municipality was negative in both environmental and money terms.

      That may not have been the case two decades ago because there was even a glass recycling facility then here in Hobart. I Understand that glass now often gets shipped to China. Globalisation has even affected the economics of recycling.

      Low volumes mean that recycling programs in smaller municipalities…

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    7. Pythinia Preston

      writer

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Your first line is farcical, feel-goodism (is there such a word?) and then you try to cover it by the put down word of 'self delusion. .Why denigrate and sneer at people's efforts to take action in various ways to recycle and follow nature's environmental ways when we have plundered the planet for all its worth.

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    8. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Paul, the thing is, they'd be trundling around collecting them anyway.

      Here in Canberra, like most cities we hav etwo bins; a smalle rone for landfill (collected weekly) and a larger one for comingled recycling (collected fortnightly). One puts x weight into bin a and y weight into bin b - either way, a truck collects the bins (a different truck of course!) and the same weight has to be trucked. It all goes to the same place in our case: the materials recovery facility is next to the landfill…

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    9. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Ideally most products would be re-usable by the consumer many times rather than having to be recycled. And don't get me started on the over-packaging of so many products. Unfortunately it is often difficult to avoid.

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    10. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Thanks for that, Henry - much appreciated.

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    11. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Sarah Glass

      Because most of us (including myself) want to feel good about what we do, thinking that it is being useful, contributing to the benefit of society and/or the world, whereas in fact many such actions can be counter-productive or worse. I like to know the truth, whether it makes me feel good or bad, as at least then I know if I'm wasting my time.

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  9. JB Rawson

    Writer

    It's interesting there's no question about 'how did you vote?': some might argue it's one of the most important things you can do to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change.

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    1. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to JB Rawson

      If voting made a difference, they'd make it illegal......

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to JB Rawson

      It makes a difference, Mike, just not a complete difference. But, no single thing does.

      I think the key with voting is to adopt the approach of 'I have to vote anyway, so I may as well vote rationally - even if it only makes 5% difference, that's 5% I didn't have before..' Or, more simply, you vote for the least bad alternative.

      It seems to me to be like these childish arguments happening here about individual versus colective action. Just as dumb, in the end, as 'there's no point Australia doing anything until all the world's ducks are lined up neatly and fairly...'

      Even the most basic reading of history demonstrates that significant change is always the result of a combination of individual and collective action, and that collective action happens at a huge range of levels, from small and local through, at least sometimes, to global. Also, the rate and spread of change is always uneven.

      Put most simply, 'Let a thousand flowers bloom [because we need them all!]'

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    3. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to JB Rawson

      Definitely not saying you shouldn't do the other stuff too - if nothing else, it might help keep you alive and comfortable for longer than those who do nothing, however much or little it contributes to overall emissions reductions. But voting is a thing you can do and could make a difference (I think).

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  10. Chris Harries

    logged in via Facebook

    The one thing we learn about behaviour change is that nobody can afford to be smug. Many people who would label themselves as environmentally aware (even as activists) if they did a footprint analysis would find out to their surprise that their environmental footprint is above society's average. This comes, in large part, as a result of environmentally aware people travelling all over the planet that they love. But it also comes down to the raw fact that environmental awareness is also largely linked…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Chris Harries

      The government here in Canberra commissions a professional (Uni of Sydney) five-yearly footprint analysis for our community. We are among the world's best recyclers and have made real improvements in reductions of electricity, petrol and water use but, because we're also one of the worlds ichest communities (on average), our total footprint is one of the worst in the world.

      Unfortunately, for now at least, wealth leads to greater impact, even when you try to behave properly.

      This, of course, doesn't mean that individual action is pointless, it just means you need to develop a far more holistic understanding of your total impacts. That's difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, but by no means impossible!

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    2. Margo Saunders

      Public Health Policy Researcher

      In reply to Chris Harries

      Difficult, maybe. But impossible? Shouldn't be. A big part of the problem, for those who already want to 'feel good' and for those who might just be curious or want to reduce costs, is the lack of information allowing informed choices. We need real-time feedback on energy use via clear, in-home electricity monitors that show the immediate impact of switching off appliances; and we need calculators to help determine the relative environmental costs of various options (such as multiple short car trips to shop locally vs fewer longer trips to bulk buy imported products).

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  11. Alex Cannara

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Same for US folks. And certainly for Germans, who are now burning more coal, waste, etc. because of their foolishly ignorant, politically-expedient anti-nuclear stance.

    But, as the old farm saying goes: "People do what they want to do" and "There's no substitute for human stupidity".

    We have both in spades in the US.

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    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      This is a tired old argument - just because you didn't go nuclear....it doesn't therefor imply that you go coal

      Are Coal and Nuke the only options?

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    2. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Michael, it's one thing to stick with coal if that's all you've got but to toss out and shut down existing nuclear plants, when nuclear is the best solution we have, to build more CFPs is beyond crazy.

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    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Jim, I agree it's a crazy thing to do, a knee jerk reaction and if they wanted to move away from nuclear for whatever reason, they should have taken time and been more thoughtful about it but this is different to stating that calling for a shut down of nuke's means we have to go to coal which is the critique many are making

      ie. you want to suht down nuke plants...ohhh so you are advocating for coal - no, it doesn't follow

      The way you talk about coal plants being a step backwards gives me a little hope that you might be re-evaluating your position on climate change - we need people like you because the solution to this issue is largely conservative values, internalise the externality to reflect the true cost of this process and let the markets deciede how to solve it.

      We will know we are on the way to resolving it when we start to hear voices like yours contributing to discussions on solutions

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    4. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Michael, I'm no latter day convert. I've had the most miserly emissions budget all my life.

      I even have a self designed, self built, wooden [sequesters carbon]sailing boat that I can live aboard that has no engine.

      I also think that converting my old dairy farm to forest and preventing bushfire for the last 25 years on my and my 40 neighbours' properties also reduces my footprint somewhat.

      But I'm still a sceptic on AGW.

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    5. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      "I also think that converting my old dairy farm to forest and preventing bushfire for the last 25 years on my and my 40 neighbours' properties also reduces my footprint somewhat."

      This is what I'm talking about Jim, the sooner we get people like yourself contributing to discussions of solutions rather than attacking the science the better off we will all be, we can't do it without you

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    6. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      I am a test Analyst for a living, specialising in data analysis for insurance, logistics and most recently for electricity distribution companies.....so you may understand I have little interest in looking at this website and trying to figure out if the software is credible or accurate

      I leave it up to the experts in those fields, specifically NASA and NOAA who not only have surface temps but ocean temps and temps from higher parts of the atmosphere - the analysis I do is pretty complicated, I can only imagine how complicated their data analysis is and I know from experience it's all too easy for someone without the right background or context to come along and screw it up - so I leave farming to farmers, medicine to doctors and I leave climate anaylsis to climate scientists

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    7. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      As well as farming I did a lot of commercial, industrial and marine construction and I was what you might call a wheel barrow executive. I went on the job to run it and be everybody's labourer.

      It's amazing how unimpressed by "experts" you become as an executive labourer.

      When you have been around a while you come to the conclusion that you need a second opinion on most things.

      I can only imagine what an executive labourer would find at NASA and NOAA.

      Colin Cook just made a beautiful quote on another thread of Richard Feynman's:

      "Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt."

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    8. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Definitely agree with that quote, although try telling that to some creationists or homeopath

      those people are convinced that science is a masswive conspiracy and all the biologists are being paid to repeat the religious mantra of evolution.

      If you have some free time you should check out a movie call "Expelled; no intelligence allowed" by Ben stein, amazing and you actually see that whether it's a homeopath or a creationists, they all use the same arguments

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    9. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Short term cooling influences (e.g. El Nino to La Nina) don't mean there is a no underlying warming.

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  12. Geoff Henley

    Research Associate in Health Statistics at Flinders University

    Just asking people if "climate change is happening" isn't a particularly meaningful question, particularly when no timeframe is attached.

    The climate is always changing, otherwise how do you explain the iceage? Also, climate change can refer to global cooling.

    A better question might be "Do you believe global temperatures have risen since 1950?" or something along those lines.

    Figure 2 in the 2013 survey provides no option for people who think that 'recent' changes in climate are partly…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Geoff Henley

      Geoff, they also didn't offer an option to vote for the moon being made of green cheese.

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    2. Geoff Henley

      Research Associate in Health Statistics at Flinders University

      In reply to Geoff Henley

      Everything is totally black and white with you Felix. There are absolutely no shades of grey.

      The fact that recent changes in climate might quite possibly be due to a combination of natural causes and man-made causes is apparently to overwhelming a concept for your struggling mind to comprehend. I think you have been eating too much of that green cheese.

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    3. Hugh McColl

      Geographer

      In reply to Geoff Henley

      Geoff, " . . recent changes in climate might quite possibly be due to a combination of natural causes and man-made causes", as you suggest, but there is nothing we can do about the natural causes - sun cycles, orbital effects etc. We know though that there is a connection between rising atmospheric CO2 and rising global temperatures and that connection is pretty easily explained by the settled science of the greenhouse effect. This is where the black and white becomes problematic for skeptics. What's causing atmospheric CO2 to rise? Why has that happened almost in exact concert with global industrialisation and the population explosion? Even if you don't accept that the greenhouse effect and the resultant global warming leads to climate change, it's pretty hard to deny the actuality of a human induced greenhouse effect.

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  13. Andrew Winter

    -

    I think that the survey respondents, and by extension the general population are living in a complete state of self-delusion.

    Take the statistic on using environmentally-friendly cleaning products: 45.6% say they use them for environmental reasons, 31.2% for other reasons. A visit to the aisle of any shopping centre would quickly put paid to the notion that more than three quarters of us are buying environmentally sensitive products - these products occupy a tiny niche in a very long aisle.

    The majority of my friends would fall into the well-educated left-leaning category, and I can confidently say that very few of the items listed in the chart they would report a yes to.

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  14. Geoffrey Sherrington

    Surveyor

    Why is it important to measure how green the populace is?

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    1. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Geoffrey Sherrington

      Geoff, it's for when the seas rise and the "greatly concerned" AKA they-who-must-pronounce-their-saintliness can then step ashore onto the high moral ground.

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  15. Geoff Henley

    Research Associate in Health Statistics at Flinders University

    I think the fact that 81% (or is it 86%) believe that 'climate change is occurring' is of little importance. What is more interesting is that only 47% of respondents believe that humans are responsible for most of the warming.

    So, in this survey , sceptics slightly outnumber the warmies. Interesting.

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    1. Peter Sommerville

      Scientist & Technologist

      In reply to Geoff Henley

      A very interesting observation Geoff.
      Not surprised that the report did not mention this though. It is usually referred to as "observer bias" - one of the sources of error in measurement.

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    2. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Geoff Henley

      "slightly outnumber the warmies"

      Aren't the "warmies" the 81%? If you accept it's warming regardless of the cause doesn't that make you a "warmie"?

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  16. Doug Rankin

    Plasterer

    Some people "get off" on owning an F100 and some a Prius. But really what's the difference? Personally I just see a need to modify-self-identify. It's pathetic from my angle in any case, but I'm barely human. Once you consume to save the environment you are being a hypocrite and have a distinct lack of anything that matters. "Oh well being a self-righteous person fills a void too I guess."

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