British Launch Ad Campaign to Raise Fading Climate Concerns

Nytimes logo2 The United States is not the only country noticing a decline in public support for climate change solutions.  The U.K.'s government launched an advertising campaign in reaction to recent polling that suggested that a majority still didn't believe climate change would effect them.  The campaign plays on people's guilt and is meant to make them take action for their children's sake.

Posted Oct. 30, 2009
By Jeremy Lovell, NYTimes

The U.K. government has launched a guilt-laden advertising campaign
after a series of opinion polls showed that the majority of the public
has not bought into climate change despite years of political
haranguing and millions of pounds spent on information and advertising.

The campaign started with screenings of a 60-second television spot
showing a father reading a bedtime story to his young daughter, telling
her about the ravages from climate change and its human causes. It ends
with her asking, "Is there a happy ending?"

"It is up to us to see how the story ends. See what you can do," comes a maternal voice-over.

The
ad was prompted by market research showing that 52 percent of people
don't believe that climate change will affect them and 18 percent don't
believe it will even affect their children.

"The advertisement is
very emotive. But it is directed to the feedback we got from our
research," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate
Change (DECC), which organized the £5.75 million ($9.56 million)
campaign.

"People see climate change as something far off. But
they are prepared to act if they understand that it will affect their
children," she told E&E. Flagging interest in climate change also
poses a problem for the Obama administration in the United States. With
little more than a month before the United States is expected to lead
in international climate talks in Copenhagen, a recent poll by the Pew
Research Center for the People & the Press shows only 35 percent of
Americans see global warming as a serious problem, a drop of 9
percentage points since last year.

The British government's
campaign, aimed at shoring up waning support, will also be in print,
and will run until mid-November. It notes that some 40 percent of the
climate-changing carbon dioxide emitted by Britons comes from housing
and personal transport. It immediately drew more than 200 complaints to
the advertising standards authority, the national watchdog for
misleading advertising. The DECC spokeswoman said the bulk of the
complaints were over the science cited in the ad.

That, she said,
came as something of a shock. "At the climate negotiations, people say
the science is settled, and we must move forward. But this suggests
that the public doesn't necessarily buy that," she said.

Climate change? Yes, but not in our backyards

It
comes at an awkward time for the government as Prime Minister Gordon
Brown exhorts his fellow world leaders to agree on a far-reaching new
climate pact at a crunch meeting in Copenhagen in December, with tough
emissions curbs on all developed countries, reduced emission growth
paths for major developing nations and massive transfers of money and
technology from rich to poor.

The opinion poll behind the new
DECC campaign is echoed by new research by pollster YouGov for Consumer
Focus, a consumer lobby group set up a year ago.

That showed that
British consumers are far more aware of climate change than they were
two years ago, but still less than half feel they may be at risk from
heat waves and less than one-third from flooding — two of the likely
consequences of climate change. Both heat waves and floods have hit
Britain in the past six years.

At the same time, the number of
people who feel they will not be affected at all by climate change has
nearly doubled to 25 percent now from 13 percent in 2007. The YouGov
research also found that the level of awareness and concern about
climate change hardly varied across social groupings.

More
research using focus groups, published last month by the Institute for
Public Policy Research think tank, produced very similar findings:
Essentially, Britons are bored by climate change, with some describing
it as "a gimmick," "a bit faddy" or a "bandwagon."

Others covered
by the IPPR research expressed cynicism over the level of government
rhetoric on the issue. "I find it all a bit schizophrenic when they
open new airport terminals for everyone and drive us mad about what we
are doing to the environment when we are flying off every day," was one
comment from a female participant in London.

Is cost the explanation?

For IPPR researcher Simon Retallack, the reasons are simple. Being green still costs too much.

This, he says, is because while the government has, after a very slow
start, begun to make a lot of noise about the personal responsibility
of everyone to act on climate change, it has still done very little to
make personal action affordable.

Sale and manufacture of traditional incandescent 100-watt and
frosted light bulbs are now banned across the 27-nation European Union,
and while their low-energy alternatives have fallen steeply in price,
they remain relatively expensive.

Highly energy-efficient
domestic appliances like refrigerators and washing machines also remain
expensive, while hybrid cars are high-priced and the few electric car
models available have a poor public profile. At the same time, moves to
raise taxes on air transport, road transport and fuel are simply seen
as a way to raise money for a government that is running on financial
empty after bailing out the banks at the height of the economic crisis.

"The
government is doing far too little to make clean tech appliances more
attractive," said Retallack. "There need to be incentives to both make
and to buy. Being seen to be green is not cool if it makes you look
like a fool with an expensive gadget." He noted that it should not be a
surprise that people have become disenchanted with climate change. It
became a concern during something like the 2003 killer heat wave or the
major flooding in northern England in 2007, but otherwise has seemed a
rather distant issue.

"Apart from the occasional extreme weather
event, business continues much as normal," he told E&E. "For most
people, it is not an everyday issue. It is something that happens
elsewhere. And taking action on a personal level is still too
expensive."

While pollster IPSOS-MORI said it had not published
any recent climate change-related work, a survey last year found that
only 1 in 3 people believed that climate change was due mainly to human
activities.

"People are getting mixed messages, and it is easy to
latch on to sceptical voices if it helps to justify your own inaction,"
a spokesman said.

And it would appear that it is not just in
Britain or the United States that climate has been shoved to the back
burner after enjoying a higher profile. In Australia, a recent poll
found that the topic had dropped to seventh on a list of foreign policy
concerns, despite a decadelong drought and multiple bush fires. It was
ranked No. 1 in 2007, when the country finally ratified the Kyoto
Protocol.

The issue is still seen as very important by 56 percent
of people — far higher than in Britain — but that itself is down 19
points from 2007. In the United States, repeated polls show a majority
of people are concerned about climate change, but when respondents are
asked to rank it against their concerns about other issues, such as the
economy, national security or education, climate sinks to the bottom of
the list.

Copyright 2009 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

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