Another looming source of division

The Voice referendum demonstrated not only the power of misinformation and disinformation but also provides insight into what might happen if an Australian Government ever tries to take real action on climate change and how public opinion could provide fertile ground for divisive campaigns.

A series of surveys by the Pew Research Centre and IPSOS provide some context for that as well as providing insights into attitudes around the world.

In 2022 the Pew Research Centre set out to measure, across a large international sample, the impact of political leanings on differences in attitudes as to whether climate change was a major threat to a country or not.

Needless to say, the US topped the scale with only 25% of those of the Right thinking it was a major threat compared to almost 80% of the Left.  In terms of the declining size of the Right and Left differences in countries Irael, Canada and Australia came next – although the Right in each case was less than 50%.

It also compared attitudes to climate change as a major threat in 2013 and 2023.

Then, in Australia the Left had the highest percentage of those countries which agreed climate change was a major threat with more than 90% saying it was. The rest of the list was, in order – Germany Netherlands, Britain, Spain, Italy, France and South Korea.

The gap in belief was narrower in Italy, France and Korea with in all three cases the agreement by the Right was around 75%.

IPSOS, to mark Earth Day in 2023, had a more extensive survey on attitudes to climate change. It was essentially directed to comparisons between Britain and other countries, but the scope of the survey also provides comparisons to Australia and many other countries.

There is a proviso with the research as IPSOS points out that some samples in some countries are more affluent educated and urban than the average population and results have not been adjusted for population size of each country.

Nevertheless, when samples in various countries were asked whether their government had a clear plan in place for how government, businesses and people were going to work together to tackle climate change the country average was 31% agreeing and 34% disagreeing.

The three highest levels of agreement came from (in order) India, Singapore and Indonesia. India seems a tad counter-intuitive but may simply reflect the adulatory attitude towards Modi and a capacity to be blind to India’s massive water problems.

They were followed by Malaysia and Thailand which were just below the 50% level although all three had low disagreement rates and it appears high levels of don’t knows.

30% of the Australian sample thought so and 34% disagreed. Countries which most disagreed were South Africa, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, the US, Argentina and Japan. Hungary had the highest disagreement level with 54% – which says a lot about faith in Viktor Orban irrespective of the electoral success he has achieved.

Respondents in almost every country had majority agreement with the question: If the country’s government does not act now to combat climate change it will be failing the people of the country. Columbia, South Africa, Thailand, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, India, Indoenesia, Great Britain, Hungary, Malaysia, France, Spain, Singapore, Australia and Belgium all had 60% or greater agreement with the question.

Germany, Switzerland and South Korea responses were just a tad under 50% in responses and Japan recorded only 36% agreement. Only 18% of Australians disagreed. Sweden had the highest disagreement level (26%) presumably hoping for warmer winters.

The global average of agreement with the statement that if businesses does not act to combat climate change they will be failing their employees and customers was 59%. Only four countries – Switzerland, Germany, South Korea and Japan scored less than 50% agreement with the question. This may reflect the degree of confidence in their nations’ companies as all four had more than 20% disagreement with the statement – the highest in the sample.

Only India and Malaysia expressed agreement that their country was a world leader in the fight against climate change. Just 24% of Australians agreed and 35% disagreed. The highest levels of agreement came from Japan (48%), Poland (62%) and Hungary (66%). This may be explained by Japanese diffidence and a rare dash of reality in Polish and Hungarian politics.

Everybody agrees that their country should do more ‘in the fight’ against climate change with 60% of the Australian sample saying so. As that’s the early level of Yes Voice vote support there is still ample space for a Murdoch-Dutton scare campaign.

As there is no majority in any country for willingness to pay more in income tax to help prevent climate change there are also more than enough opportunities for negative campaigns in all these countries. The only national exception is India which scored 64% agreement on the question. Readers may ponder the meaning of this for themselves.

….and as for making developed countries (such as the UK, Canada, Germany, US, France) pay more to solve a problem they have largely created there is a majority in favour of that from almost everyone – except the US and Japan.

Those who have contributed most to the problem – the UK from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution; Australia and Canada with fossil fuel extraction and the US with its lifestyle in general are ambivalent or opposed. There was no sample of Russia in the IPSOS survey so what Russian respondents to this question might have said is guesswork at best.

Almost everyone – including even the US and Hungary – disagrees with the statement that there is no point in changing my own behaviour to tackle climate change because it won’t make any difference anyway.

Only a quarter of the Australian sample agrees there is no point in changing their behaviour although 51% disagree.

There are obvious limitations in the research – from sample size to sampling techniques to the problems with specific populations. There are two overwhelming conclusions however – the confidence the Indian respondents have in the Modi Government; and, the rich opportunities political parties around the world have to conduct negative campaigns.