Debating Climate Change

Debating Climate Change

The overwhelming majority of expert climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and that humans are the main contributors to climate change.  The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has stated ‘Warming of the climate system is unequivocal’ and ‘Human influence on the climate system is clear’.

However, large numbers of people in many countries do not agree with the IPCC or the scientific consensus on climate change.

In 2017, according to the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA), approximately two thirds of Australian adults believe climate change is happening and caused mainly by humans.  Only 3 per cent reject climate change outright, but a further 20 per cent of Australians feel climate change has mainly natural causes.

What can the Our Lives study tell us about the attitudes of young Queenslanders on climate change?

A large majority of Our Lives respondents (79%) agree with the climate scientists that climate change has mainly anthropogenic (human) causes; only 9 per cent of our sample suggested it is a ‘natural’ occurrence, and even fewer (2%) maintain it is not happening at all (the remaining 10 per cent were unsure).

Nevertheless, women (81%) were slightly more likely than men (77%) to believe climate change is caused by humans, and beliefs also varied according to where respondents completed their secondary education (Government school 77%; Independent school 79%; Catholic school 85%).  However, the largest differences in climate change attitudes are related to political party identification.  Only 44 per cent of respondents who ‘think of themselves’ as Nationals, and 66 per cent of Liberals believe that climate change has human causes, compared to 88 per cent for Labor and 96 per cent of Greens.

We also asked participants to what extent they agree that ‘Climate change is a serious threat to Australia’?  Eighty per cent (80%) either agreed or strongly agreed it poses a serious national threat, with 15 per cent unsure and the remainder disagreeing.

Beliefs about the causes of climate change also appear to influence how much of a threat it is seen to pose.  We found that 92 per cent of Queenslanders who believe climate change has human causes, agree that it poses a serious threat to Australia, compared to only 46 per cent who believe climate change is occurring naturally.

Increasing proportions of Australians believe that climate change is occurring, that it is caused mainly by human activities and that it will pose a serious threat to Australia.  While we have measured climate change attitudes in the Our Lives survey, what remains to be seen is whether increased concern over climate change among our young cohort translates into behavioural change.

To what extent will Australians, particularly younger Australians, vote for political parties because of their climate change policies?   Will they act to reduce their ‘carbon footprint’ in order to mitigate climate change?   We don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but intend to explore these issues in future Our Lives surveys.


Bruce Tranter