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NZers Awareness Of Climate Change Poor - Survey

A survey has shown that few New Zealanders are aware of the significance of climate change.

Pete Hodgson, Convenor of the Ministerial Group on Climate Change, today released the results of a UMR Research survey of knowledge and concern about climate change in New Zealand. The survey of more than 750 New Zealanders aged 18 or over found that while people did not know much about climate change, they did want to know more and were generally prepared to take steps to "do their bit" if government led the way.

Key findings in the survey Climate Change Issues: A Study of Public Awareness and Level of Concern:

- New Zealanders have only moderate levels of knowledge about climate change issues. Twelve percent of those surveyed claimed they knew "a lot" and 51 percent "a fair amount" about global warming issues, but the research suggests that is "a generous self-assessment".

- The level of concern about climate change is also modest, with respondents generally ranking it well behind other issues such as biosecurity, ozone depletion and overpopulation. However 20 percent said they would be "very interested" and a further 56 percent "fairly interested" in finding out more about climate change issues.

- The level of individual commitment to pay more and/or put up with some inconvenience to save energy varies considerably. Overall 46 percent New Zealanders surveyed were in reasonably strong agreement with the statement "I’m prepared to pay a little more and put up with some inconvenience to help the environment", while 11 percent were in reasonably strong disagreement.

"The challenge for the Government now to make sure that the community has the information it needs to get involved in finding the best response to climate change," Mr Hodgson said. "We will shortly release a report on climate change impacts on New Zealand to help achieve this."

Executive summary attached. Full report available at http://www.climatechange.govt.nz

II. Executive Summary

Level of Knowledge

- New Zealanders only have moderate levels of knowledge about Climate Change issues.

12% claimed they know “a lot” and 51% “a fair amount” about the issues involved in global warming. The findings from the qualitative research suggest that is fairly generous self-assessment. There was wide-spread confusion evident in the focus group discussions between Climate Change issues and the hole in the ozone layer.

- The primary consequences of global warming identified were hotter weather/droughts and rising seas.

- The term Climate Change has far less meaning to New Zealanders than global warming. There is currently a much more substantial base of knowledge to work on using the term global warming.

Climate change was generally interpreted as a merging of the seasons (warmer winters and cooler summers), or just simply seen as a measurable long-term change in the climate.

- There was 39% declared awareness of the Kyoto protocol. That figure is likely to have been lifted sharply by the news of President Bush’s abandonment of the protocol which came through shortly before the fieldwork. There was little awareness of the protocol amongst focus group respondents.

Level of concern

- There are also only modest levels of concern about global warming/Climate Change amongst New Zealanders.

In unprompted identification of the major environmental issues facing New Zealand over the next 20-50 years, global warming/Climate Change emerged well behind other issues such as biosecurity, the hole in the ozone layer and over population.

In prompted testing of the seriousness of environmental issues in the quantitative survey global warming ranked fifth of the seven issues tested although there were relatively even ratings for each of the issues apart from much lower concern for “radiation from cell phones and cell phone sites”.

- There were also some clear sources of scepticism about Climate Change apparent in the focus group discussions which served to moderate levels of concern about the issue and to mute support for any radical action to minimise the impact of Climate Change.

The most important was a view that natural weather cycles had a much more powerful impact on the climate than anything people are doing.

This view allows acknowledgment of some human impact on Climate Change but as it is not seen as the predominant impact it does reduce the level of concern and level of support for any counter actions. Some respondents in the focus groups took this a step further and speculated that the human impact on Climate Change was maybe saving the world from another Ice Age.

There was also evidence of more direct scepticism with some questioning whether scientists were sure of their ground on the issue.

Some also contended the view that even if there was a problem by the time 20-50 years had passed, solutions would be found. This view can also acknowledge the human impact on Climate Change but also serves to lessen the level of concern on the issue.

- There was also evidence of fatalistic attitudes on the issue in the focus group discussions. Some considered it was a global problem and just too big for there to be any point in taking any counter action either on an individual or New Zealand wide level.

A further source of fatalism apparent in the focus group discussions was a view that the interests of big business, especially the oil companies, would prevail over any good intentions by individuals or Governments.

Role of Government

- There was minimal awareness of Government response to Climate Change issues. In the quantitative survey 2% claimed they knew “a lot” and 13% a “fair amount” about the New Zealand Government’s response to global warming. The best that could be mustered from the focus group respondents was an impression that the Government was probably doing something.

- There was support from the focus groups respondents for Government taking on an education role. There was also some support from focus group respondents for enforcement of tougher emission standards on motor vehicles, tougher energy conservation standards for new housing and Government monitoring of energy efficient standards on appliances.

There was some support for New Zealand taking an international lead in combating Climate Change. The indications from the focus group discussions, however, were that much of that support would not be sustained if it was clear economic costs would be involved.

Those in favour were attracted by the idea of New Zealand in an international leadership role with comparisons made to New Zealand’s lead on the nuclear issue. Some also thought that a start had to be made and New Zealand could possible prod other countries into action. It was, nevertheless, as noted, clear that support was not always maintained once the issue of economic cost especially job losses were raised.

Some respondents in the focus groups were clearly much more comfortable with New Zealand being part of a global initiative rather than going it alone.

Individual commitment

- The level of individual commitment to pay more and/or put up with some inconvenience to save energy clearly varies considerably between different individuals.

Overall in the quantitative survey 46% of the New Zealanders surveyed were in reasonably strong agreement and 11% in reasonably strong disagreement with the statement, “I’m prepared to pay a little more and put up with some inconvenience to help the environment”.

The primary impression from the focus groups was that most people would be motivated more by being able to save money themselves and were not prepared to put up with too much inconvenience.

The primary energy saving activity people currently engage in is recycling. This appears to be reasonably well ingrained behaviour. Key factors were that recycling was easy to do, it had had considerable publicity and reached a critical mass point where there was some sense of pressure to recycle.

There was also some support for the use of alternative fuels although mostly subject to a reduction in set up costs and a distribution network being available.

There did not appear to be much current prospect of more limited use of motor vehicles or the use of smaller motor vehicles. Public transport was not seen as a viable option in Auckland as it was mostly seen to take far more time to get from A to B. It was also not seen as viable in the Wairarapa because of the lack of a public transport system.

Information

- There did appear to be a reasonably high level of interest in finding out more about global warming/Climate Change issues.

In the quantitative survey 20% of New Zealanders surveyed declared they would be very interested and a further 56% fairly interested in finding out more.

There was a reasonably high level of interest in the newsletter Climate Wise in the focus groups with many respondents taking it away.

The preferred media sources for receiving information were television, followed by newspaper articles, pamphlets, newsletter, and a website.

Communications Strategy

- The first task is to strengthen the face of knowledge about our Climate Change issues.

This is a necessary first step to lift what are now primarily routine expressions of concern into real concern that can be the base for changes in behaviour.

Critical tasks in increasing the base of knowledge are to:-

- clear up the confusion between Climate Change and the hole in the ozone layer.

- tackle the damaging perception that natural weather cycles are more important than human impacts.

- increase awareness of the Kyoto protocol.

- The task will be easier if the term “global warming’ rather than “Climate Change’ is used. “Global warming” currently conveys a much more relevant meaning to New Zealanders than “Climate Change”.

- The possibility of New Zealand taking an international lead in combating Climate Change does need to be carefully positioned. New Zealanders will be attracted to that position but if it is clear that economic costs are involved this study indicates that overall more would be comfortable if New Zealand is seen as working with international communities.

Government initiatives that would probably receive reasonable support are tougher energy conservation standards for new housing, more stringent emission standards for motor vehicles, Government promotion of alternative fuels and monitoring of energy efficient labels. It should be noted, however, that these options were only explored in a relatively small scale qualitative research study.

The strong impression from this study is that in the current situation the Government should promote small and reasonably convenient energy conservation steps for New Zealanders to follow. There was, for instance, no sign of likely support for any measures such as increasing taxes on petrol or advocating less use of motor vehicles.


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