Our friends at WWF recently commissioned an opinion poll and reporti by market research company Demos, which has been given the title “The Climate Consensus”, since that is what it seeks to persuade us exists. So much so that it led to a couple of articles in the Guardian, the most recent of whichii has the arresting headline “‘Overwhelming’ backing for strong climate action, UK study shows”, and the secondary headline “Biggest ever analysis shows public backs carbon tax on industry, flight levies and grants for heat pumps.”

At the time when the first Guardian article appeared I could find no link to the report, so merely commented in passing at Open Mic, but now that the link is available I think it is worth assessing the claims in some detail. There is no doubt that it is a substantial body of work, seeking as it does to interview almost 22,000 people (according to the Guardian – almost 20,000 people according to the report itself; Executive summary on page 6) in the UK and covering residents of every UK Parliamentary constituency. The report pdf runs to 92 pages, and even stripping out front and back pages, references and pages of legal guff, it still contains something like 75 pages of relevant information. In passing, I note that thanks are given for “financial, practical and intellectual contributions to the project” by WWF, National Grid and ScottishPower, the latter of course being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Spanish company Iberdrola, with many interests in renewables and doubtless profits to be made from “net zero”. While casting no doubt on the integrity of the polling process and analysis of the results, and while giving full credit to Demos for making the source of the project’s funding fully transparent, I do observe that none of the funders are exactly disinterested bystanders.

Methodology

The Polling Methodology is set out for us in Annex 5 of the Report, at pages 77 & 78. And this is where I immediately begin to question the validity of the results. The first thing to notice is that despite the Guardian’s claim that almost 22,000 people were polled, we learn that the number is in fact 19,862. We are told that they were recruited to use the Climate Calculator and submit their choices. Full disclosure is made as to the methodology of selection, with quotas established for gender, age group, region and socio-economic group; results being weighted to ensure they were representative of these categories, in addition to the following categories: disability status, 2019 general election vote, EU referendum vote, current voting intention, household income, education, ethnicity, number of adults in household, number of children in household, vehicle ownership, area of residence type (e.g. city centre), employment status, industry employed in (e.g. ‘construction’) and homeowner or not. I take it as read that this was fairly done and complied with standard polling practice. I make no criticism of it.

However, the next piece of the methodology does ring alarm bells in my mind. We are told that:

Respondents had to complete the Calculator and hit or beat the government’s 39% target for their response to be counted.

The report claims that due to the sample size the results are extremely robust, but does have the grace to caveat that claim by pointing out that the object of the exercise was to get the public’s views on policy given the government’s target (my emphasis). Thus:

[T]he sample is limited to those who completed the Calculator and submitted their choices.

It seems to me that hyperbolic claims such as those made in the Guardian (The British public have chosen the future they want – one with green jobs, clean air and thriving nature – and which doesn’t hit the worst-off in the pocket,” said Tanya Steele, the CEO of WWF ) are not remotely justified given these limitations. In order for your views to be taken into account, you had to complete the Calculator and submit your choices. Even if you did that, your views would still not be counted if your choices didn’t beat the government’s 39% target. Oh yes, and you’re not allowed to question the validity of the government’s target.

Thus, everything is predicated on the wisdom of the Government’s target, the efficacy of your calculator, your submitting your views in accordance with the object of the exercise, and your producing responses which meet the target. Absent all of that, and your views weren’t counted. At least that’s how it seems to me. Time to look at the Calculator.

The Climate Calculator

The first thing to do is to visit the Climate Calculator websiteiii. As this explains, it is a joint initiative by WWF and Demos (and sponsored by National Grid and ScottishPower: “the UK’s first integrated energy company to generate 100% green electricity”).

In order to understand what exactly is going on here, I am afraid I will have to quote at length from the Climate Calculator website’s front page:

Use the Climate Calculator to choose the climate policies you would like to see in place to help the UK hit its target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Existing policies are likely to get us half way from where we are now to where we need to be. The government knows more is needed – but what?

The Climate Calculator lets you answer this question, based on the impact of different policies, not just on emissions, but also on household budgets, jobs and health. These impacts are based on a mass of research – details on the site (we have not reported on every impact or alternative, only key ones).

The impacts of the policies include costs. But bear in mind that not taking action would cost even more: according to the Bank of England, five times as much for the country as a whole by 2050.

We will publish an analysis of the choices users make (you can request a copy on the final page) to show the UK government how the public want the UK to meet its 2030 climate target – or even how to beat it.

This makes things absolutely explicit. And at this stage it is becoming abundantly obvious that this isn’t remotely an opinion poll about the wisdom of the Government’s policies, or about the costs of those policies, or one which allows you to question the claims made about the costs of those policies or the costs of doing nothing. No, you have to accept the assumptions, and play by their rules. If you don’t, your opinion doesn’t count.

The Calculator allows you to look at what it tells you will be the impact on emissions of policy choices in six main areas, namely electric cars; public transport & cycling; heating; flights; food & land use; and other things we buy.

I had a quick go at playing with the calculator myself, and was quickly met with this message:

The aim is to hit – or beat – the government target. We realise not everyone will agree with this aim, but the purpose of the Calculator is to see what policies users would prefer assuming the government sticks to the target. If when you have gone through each area you haven’t managed to hit it, then you can go back and revise your choices.

Well, that’s honest, at least, but I’m displeased to put it mildly when I consider these limitations, and that they’re completely ignored by the Guardian when it says:

The UK public backs a carbon tax on polluting industries, higher levies on flying and grants for heat pumps in order to tackle the climate crisis, according to the biggest analysis of policy preferences ever published.

Almost 22,000 [sic] people chose their favoured mix of policies to hit the government’s 2030 target for emissions cuts. A speed limit of 60mph on motorways and a campaign to reduce meat eating by 10% were also among the most popular measures, all of which had between 77% and 94% public support.

The public went further than the government, choosing to surpass the current carbon target by 3%. Age, location and political leaning made little difference to the policy choices, the researchers found, with an “overwhelming consensus” for strong and fair climate action.

I suppose if you don’t allow people to question the policy aim, ignore their views if they dare to do so, and disqualify any results which don’t meet your policy goals, then you will get the results you want. But it’s certainly not what I would call an “overwhelming consensus”.

But back to the Climate Calculator. It gets worse. For instance, when responding to the question as to when the charging network should be put in place, I find that I am not allowed to believe that this should be later than 2026. Having delayed this as long as they allow (2026) I am told that “my” strategy is:

[A] charging network by 2026

A comprehensive network of public charging points is in place by 2026: everyone without their own off-street parking will have access to a charge point in the street they live in, and for those on longer journeys there will be rapid charge points at car parks and all petrol stations. For those with off-street parking, private charge points will be available for about £700. There will be a strengthened electricity grid to make this possible.

By the way, the Calculator seems to have changed the parameters available to those using it since the poll was conducted. As mentioned, I couldn’t delay the comprehensive charging network beyond 2026, yet when I read the Report, I find on page 26 a declaration of 91% support for a comprehensive charging network by 2028.

Another example – when it comes to heating the choice is various points between continuing with current Government policies and a rapid shift to “low carbon and energy efficiency”. I am not allowed to say that I want the policy to slow down.

It’s the same with regard to flights. When it comes to style of farming, I have a simple choice between “more intensive farming, more forests” and “more sustainable farming, forests and wildlife habitats”. I’m being channelled down a road of their choosing and not allowed to suggest alternatives. Obviously I’m not sufficiently on board, as when I got to the end of my permitted choices I was met with this message (yes, it was in red):

You’ve not yet met the emissions target, please go back and amend your sliders and policies.

Had I been one of the people polled, and had I declined to do so, my results wouldn’t have been counted.

To conclude this section, I find (on page 10 of the Report) that the Climate Change Committee’s analysis, supporting reports and policy recommendations in its Sixth Carbon Budget were the primary source for modelling the impacts of the policies on tax, prices and jobs. So that’s another layer of loaded assumptions built in to the exercise.

Carbon Tax

The first claim made in the Guardian headline is that the public backs a carbon tax on industry. Yet when I turn to page 32 of the Report, I find only an average of 24% support for a carbon tax of £100 (rather than £75) per tonne to be paid by manufacturing and construction businesses. Support falls to just 20% among the over 65s. Analysed according to how people voted in the 2019 election, support varies from 21% (Conservatives) to 31% (SNP).

On page 38 of the Report, I find a massive average of 94% support for a carbon tax of £75 per tonne. Personally I find it inconceivable that 24% support for £100 per tonne would jump to 94% support for £75 per tonne if the people polled were allowed an alternative. Perhaps I’m wrong, but these claims just don’t pass the sniff test so far as I’m concerned.

Flight levies

The Guardian headline and article content both claim that the UK public backs higher levies on flying. Page 26 of the Report contains a table claiming 89% support for higher levies on flying, which broke down as to 62% supporting a levy on frequent fliers (i.e. the size of the levy increasing for additional flights per person) and 27% who preferred a flat 10% levy.

Yet page 27 of the Report contains another table, and this tells me that only 41% supported a sharp increase in flying costs, with 28% supporting higher costs for frequent fliers, and just 13% supporting a flat levy of 20%. Interestingly, yet another table, on page 31, tells us that support for large flight levies is lowest among the young, with just 32% of 18-24 year old supporting a sharp increase in flying costs (compared to 45% of over 65s). Support was also lowest in London (38%) and greatest in the East Midlands and Scotland (44%). That surprised me.

The issue revealed by this vast disparity (apparently less than half as much support for high levies as for low ones) is that the public aren’t actually quite so keen on these things at all, and the hippest – youngest and London-dwellers – are the least keen of all. Who knows what the results would have shown had those polled been offered the option of no flight levies? We’ll never know, because it wasn’t an option, and if you tried to opt for it, your result didn’t count.

Grants For Heat Pumps

This is the third measure contained in the Guardian headline, and which we are told has public support. Interestingly, of the six measures highlighted in the Guardian article as enjoying public support, this one enjoyed the lowest claimed support (77%). Curiously, perhaps, as the table on page 30 of the Report tells us, the lowest level of support is again among the 18-24 year age group (74%). Astonishingly, it only enjoys 80% support among Green Party members (page 35 of the Report). Why not 100%?

Also, as the table on page 40 of the report tells us, the most ambitious option with regard to heating and electricity, made possible by government playing an active role, plus subsidies for insulation, with the government increasing its 2030 target for insulation to 1.3m existing homes being insulated and a grant scheme covering insulation where this does not pay for itself through savings on bills, enjoys only 33% support.

And whilst I’m mentioning policy options with low levels of support, the option of a 25% tax on meat and dairy enjoys only 25% support (not surprisingly, perhaps, the highest level of support – 29% – is among those earning more than £81,000 p.a.

But returning to the policies on grants for heat pumps, we observe the same trends among those polled, with levels of support for extreme measures being less than half the levels of support being expressed for less extreme measures. Again, we will never know what levels of support might have been expressed for a policy of taking no action with regard to stripping out gas boilers and replacing them with heat pumps, because that option simply wasn’t on the table.

Conclusion

The Report is a detailed and honest piece of work, transparent at every level. If one takes the trouble to read it, it becomes obvious that it doesn’t begin to justify the headlines surrounding it. On the contrary, it seems obvious to me that levels of public support for “net zero” climate measures are very low indeed. Unfortunately, I suspect the intention was always to produce a one-sided report, whose (artificially-generated) results would be used to produce shrill headlines. As with so much Guardian reporting, the headlines and the article are, strictly speaking, true, but they lie by omission. If the whole context was given, Guardian readers would see that the Report in fact tells a very different story to the fairy tale report in the Guardian. As so often, the Guardian has told us a truth, but it most certainly is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

My final observation is to note the lack of enthusiasm among the 18-24 age group. Perhaps they are less exposed to the BBC propaganda that older age groups continue to lap up? Whatever the explanation, there is some cause for hope that the brainwashing through schools and university may not be quite so effective as we feared. Prevent them from flying, and they won’t be happy!

Endnotes

i https://demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Climate-Consensus.pdf

ii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/11/uk-public-backs-carbon-tax-high-flyer-levy-and-heat-pump-grants-study-shows

iii https://climatecalculator.co.uk/

19 Comments

  1. Well done. Thank you.

    “A comprehensive network of public charging points is in place by 2026: everyone without their own off-street parking will have access to a charge point in the street they live in, and for those on longer journeys there will be rapid charge points at car parks and all petrol stations. For those with off-street parking, private charge points will be available for about £700. There will be a strengthened electricity grid to make this possible”

    I continue to be amazed by the lack of any practicality in the minds of those who come up with this stuff. In five years they expect to re-wire the country’s distribution system (strengthened electricity grid), install many (million?) charge points in the streets using an as yet undeveloped kind of charging system (are the chargers permanent, are the cables permanent or do the drivers drag them around and on and on), install many more (millions) charge points for off street parkers. And then there is the mind-blowing matter of the costs.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So let me see if I’ve got this right. For those who were selected on the basis that they accepted the government’s target, and were sufficiently committed to it, there was a clear majority in favour of doing something about it.

    Or, in Guardian-speak, we are all for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think one could even call this a poll, really. If they recorded and presented the numbers of those who refused to submit to the calculator, plus those who submitted but failed to reach the required target, plus those needing 2, or 3, or 4 etc passes to reach the target, then it would begin to resemble a poll. But even then its only a poll of those who, faced with the stated absolute inevitability of a caning, choose to have a book down their trousers or not. Only those with much cultural guilt about planetary doom and who might well self-flagellate anyway, are going to brave it without the posterior protection.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Makes you wonder if there were any participants who accepted the government’s target (and also who were deemed sufficiently committed to it) but were not in favour of doing anything about it. If there were only a majority who wanted something done, there must have a very discombobulated minority who were opposed to doing anything about something they favoured. Perhaps this minority were targets for the ‘funny farm’. There are some really funny people about 😵‍💫

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This follows the pattern set by the “97% consensus” study: screen for respondents who agree with your premise and, voila, near unanimity!!
    Thanks for the analysis Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Quote: “Prevent them from flying, and they won’t be happy!”

    And the best way to do that: have a pandemic, even if you have to redefine the meaning of the word pandemic in order to make it one. Pure coincidence though, I’m sure. But I suppose I digress…

    Quote: “I continue to be amazed by the lack of any practicality in the minds of those who come up with this stuff. In five years they expect to re-wire the country’s distribution system (strengthened electricity grid), install many (million?) charge points in the streets using an as yet undeveloped kind of charging system (are the chargers permanent, are the cables permanent or do the drivers drag them around and on and on), install many more (millions) charge points for off street parkers. And then there is the mind-blowing matter of the costs.”

    Then there is the installation of all those heat pumps. Grants are all very well, but you also need the resources (human and materials) to complete the job. And yet more electricity to run them. I found the following on a random site, no doubt not totally impartial:

    7 Disadvantages of Heat Pumps are:
    High upfront cost.
    Difficult to install.
    Questionable Sustainability.
    Requires significant work.
    Issues in cold weather.
    Not entirely carbon neutral.
    Planning permissions required.

    No doubt arguable points but enough to make it clear they are not exactly a panacea.

    So how are those who can’t or don’t want to go to heat pumps going to manage? Convert to all-electric heating (as well as cooking)? Or convert to hydrogen, assuming a nationwide conversion of the gas mains and everyone’s gas boilers (and maybe cookers) to hydrogen. Could be done in theory, but with significant practical problems. Not to mention the actual generation & storage of the hydrogen.

    Of course technical people in the relevant industries have been looking at this kind of thing for years, but I don’t seem to see much discussion of the practical issues, certainly not among politicians or by the Green lobby.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for your work, Mark.

    I’m reminded of a poll in which respondents were asked if they’d like a new Rolls Royce.

    99% stated they would.

    Q2 was “Would you be prepared to pay at least £230,000 *of your own money* for a new Rolls Royce?”

    99% stated they would not.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A similar sort of poll cropped up on twatter today

    It purports to show how the constituencies of John Redwood, Steve Baker and Iain Duncan Smith are at odds with their MPs on action to avert “climate change”. Obviously it is bullshit but I didn’t have the patience to delve

    Like

  9. More from the Demos report’s executive summary:

    The UK’s 2030 climate target is within reach. At a decisive point for climate action, this report marks a major intervention in the climate policy debate, presenting a viable path to meeting our 2030 target chosen by the UK public. Made possible by innovative new technology, we report on a package of policies that represent the commitments and trade-offs we as a country are prepared to make, based on the input from a nationally representative group of nearly 20,000 people. […] We urge the government to incorporate the public’s priorities reported here into its imminent Net Zero Strategy: the public has spoken and it’s time for the government to act.

    “We as a country are prepared… the public has spoken..”

    Or, more accurately: The public (the part that agrees with our clients) has played around with a cursor until it got the right answer.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. who are Demos I wondered ?

    from the website – https://demos.co.uk/public-participation-lab/

    from the blurb – ”
    29 may 2020. We’re excited to launch the Public Participation Lab, a unique new research centre to bring people into the heart of policymaking.

    Made possible by a £100,000 donation from Martin Lewis OBE, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, the Lab will bring together 25 years of research expertise with cutting edge technological methods to develop new ways for people to get involved in designing policies on issues that affect them”

    or, going by this “poll” get the targeted answers that suit our clients & all for a nice fee.

    ps – looked at MoneySavingExpert.com for a way to ask Martin Lewis his thoughts on this “poll” but can’t find a direct link/comment thread !!!

    Like

  11. This post is a great achievement Mark: to see through the corrupt nexus of sponsors, methodology and headline-makers so quickly and comprehensively. As I look at the Calculator at the centre I’m ashamed to be a software engineer.

    Like

  12. So ‘everything is predicated on the wisdom of the Government’s target, the efficacy of your calculator, your submitting your views in accordance with the object of the exercise, and your producing responses which meet the target.’

    ‘You can only play if you play nice and WE get to decide what is nice.’

    Like

  13. I’ve just completed the carbon calculator, being as honest as possible while still fulfilling the survey’s criteria for carbon reduction so that my views would be counted. There’s a lot of opinions that you’re not allowed to express, a lot of vital information missing, and a continual feeling that you’re being herded into a sheep pen. I don’ know what Ofcom or similar government bodies would say, but it seems to me that any description of this exercise as a “survey” or “opinion poll” is grossly misleading, and that the Guardian’s articles could be attacked on this point (though I believe the Guardian doesn’t subscribe to Ofcom’s rules – that needs checking.)

    Anyway, my criticisms are too long for a comment here, so I’ll put them up as a separate article soon. And many thanks to Mark for his analysis. This is another disturbing step in the long march of social research as social control. It needs analysing and then resisting.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Here’s another example:

    “England’s wind energy potential remains untapped
    Despite overwhelming support for onshore windfarms, planning rules mean it is possible for only one person to prevent development”

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/oct/19/england-wind-energy-potential-onshore-windfarms-planning-development

    “…Polls show more than 70% of people, especially Conservatives, are in favour….”.

    The Guardian, of course, doesn’t provide any link to back up that claim. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that tis is a reference to the Demos “opinion poll” I highlighted in the article. It includes a table (on p 49) with claimed 70+% support for a policy choice which includes:

    “The government also sets more ambitious targets for wind and solar electricity generation.”

    IF that is the basis for the claim I’m massively unimpressed. Then again I’m also mightily unimpressed by this claim:

    “With urgent action required on the climate crises, the latest renewable prospectus is that substantial investment by 2030 in cheap onshore wind would cut household bills by £25 a year, create 27,000 jobs and level up deprived areas.”

    The link to the self-serving propaganda (for that is what it is) can be found here:

    https://www.renewableuk.com/news/583052/RenewableUK-Onshore-Wind-Prospectus-.htm

    “RenewableUK has published an Onshore Wind Industry Prospectus offering a new partnership with the Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to maximise the economic benefits of clean power for bill payers while ensuring that the UK reaches net zero emissions at the lowest cost.”

    Further link to the pdf:

    Click to access onshore_wind_prospectus_fina.pdf

    Like

  15. Here’s another example:

    “‘Case closed’: 99.9% of scientists agree climate emergency caused by humans
    Trawl of 90,000 studies finds consensus, leading to call for Facebook and Twitter to curb disinformation”

    “The scientific consensus that humans are altering the climate has passed 99.9%, according to research that strengthens the case for global action at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

    The degree of scientific certainty about the impact of greenhouse gases is now similar to the level of agreement on evolution and plate tectonics, the authors say, based on a survey of nearly 90,000 climate-related studies. This means there is practically no doubt among experts that burning fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, coal, peat and trees, is heating the planet and causing more extreme weather.

    A previous survey in 2013 showed 97% of studies published between 1991 and 2012 supported the idea that human activities are altering Earth’s climate.

    This has been updated and expanded by the study by Cornell University that shows the tiny minority of sceptical voices has diminished to almost nothing as evidence mounts of the link between fossil-fuel burning and climate disruption.

    The latest survey of peer-reviewed literature published from 2012 to November 2020 was conducted in two stages. First, the researchers examined a random sample of 3,000 studies, in which they found only found four papers that were sceptical that the climate crisis was caused by humans. Second, they searched the full database of 88,125 studies for keywords linked to climate scepticism such as “natural cycles” and “cosmic rays”, which yielded 28 papers, all published in minor journals.

    The authors said their study, published on Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, showed scepticism among experts is now vanishingly small.”

    The survey can be found here:

    https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ac2966

    “Method
    Previous attempts to quantify the consensus on climate change have employed many different methodologies, varying from expert elicitation to examination of abstracts returned by a keyword search. We base our methodology on C13 with some important refinements. We searched the Web of Science for English language ‘articles’ added between the dates of 2012 and November 2020 with the keywords ‘climate change’, ‘global climate change’ and ‘global warming’. C13 used the latter two phrases but not ‘climate change’ without the preceding ‘global’. (As discussed below, this was justified post-facto in our study because the majority of sceptical papers we found would not have been returned had we used the same search phrases as C13.) This wider set of search terms yielded a total of 88125 papers, whereas C13 identified a total of 11944 abstracts from papers published over the years 1991 and 2011. (Using our expanded search terms over the same 1991–2011 time period as C13 would have yielded 30627 results.)

    Given the large number of papers found using our approach we randomly sub-sampled 3000 abstracts out of the 88125 total papers identified in our search, and subsequently categorized them in accordance with C13”

    If someone wishes to analyse the report and produce an article, be my guest! I content myself with pointing out that findings that humans are responsible for “the climate crisis” (no bias there, then!) is not the same as findings that human-emitted greenhouse gases are responsible for it, since human activities which may well have a major impact on climate, and which few sceptics would query, include the impacts of deforestation, urbanisation, and much else in the way of human activity which is damaging to the environment.

    If I have more time to spare, I may return to this, but for now, colour me unconvinced by it.

    Like

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