The Climate-Change Climate in the U.K.

A quick visit to the U.K. confirms that environmental and global-warming concerns are, on the surface at least, acutely more pronounced here than in the U.S. Reminders and nudges seem to be everywhere, many of them seemingly intended to make you feel guilty for every breath you draw and every bite you swallow. A bottle of Belu water arrives at the table: “All Profits to Clean Water Projects,” it says. “The U.K.’s First Carbon-Neutral Bottled Water.”

A Times article by Ben Webster reports on a £6 million governmental ad campaign arguing that “Man is causing global warming and endangering life on Earth”:

Ministers sanctioned the campaign because of concern that scepticism about climate change was making it harder to introduce carbon-reducing policies such as higher energy bills.

The advertisement attempts to make adults feel guilty about their legacy to their children. It features a father telling his daughter a bedtime story of “a very very strange” world with “horrible consequences” for today’s children.

The little girl has an angel’s face; the bedtime story includes weeping bunnies, rising seas, drowning doggies, and evil, energy-consuming grownups.

Most interesting, to me at least, was this bit of the article:

When asked how they would react if they knew climate change were going to have a serious effect on their children’s lives, 74 percent [of British adults surveyed] said that they would be willing to change their lifestyle. Fifteen percent said that they would not make any changes.

That’s encouraging, yes? Three of four adults “would be willing to change their lifestyle.”

But I’d advise you to ignore this survey completely. As we write at some length in SuperFreakonomics, such declarations of good intentions, which come at a personal cost with little in the way of immediate benefit, are the emptiest of promises.

Interestingly, my visit to London occurred on the same day the Sunday Times ran a longish extract (not yet online) of SuperFreakonomics; its headline: “Why Everything You Think You Know About Global Warming Is Wrong.”

That said, the incessant environmental nudging worked on me, at least for the first meal I took here. Instead of a breakfast including every form of meat known to man (as if often the case here), I took the Vegetarian English Breakfast, with a “sausage” made of spinach and ricotta (yum), vegetarian black pudding (like chomping a dry sponge), and a few slices of soy bacon (tasted quite nice, although it looked like a surgical glove). I believe the eggs actually came from chickens, though I cannot be certain.


a scientist talking about the new book.



You make an excellent point but it's totally unrelated to the article and certainly unrelated to Bruce's comment at 9.38. Don't be too worried though; it is normally for people to erroneously combine climate change (unproven, effect positive and negative) with real (chemical) pollution (real and effect negative).

Your implicit suggestion that we should take care of our environment, carefully manage our precious water supply and reuse and recycle is very sound though.

However that is unrelated to whether climate change is caused by CO2, and even if more CO2 is a bad thing, which is the issue at hand. I would also challenge your statement that the climate is becoming less stable - it's a demonstrable fact that hurricane incidence and severity (for example) is flat or decreasing. What stability were you talking about? Ice caps? Antarctica has the widest ice coverage ever measure,d the Arctic has more this year than 2008 and 2008 had more than 2007 (admittedly from a very low base). I'm not going to mention flat or cooling global temps, because even the BBc reports that now, so it's not in dispute.

The reason the Climate Change climate is changing is that people now have access to more information; they can infrom themselves rather than relying on a catastrophist media & when one does that... well the arguments don't stack up.



You are right to say that the fact 74 percent of Brits say that they care enough about climate change to do something about it doesn't mean that they will if left to their own devices - inertia and problems of collective action make it likely that they will do little. But you miss the point. Such expressions of concern provide an important indicator of whether individuals will accept or even demand for government action on the issue that will limit emissions directly or create incentives to encourage citizens to do the same. This is why there is a correlation between what British citizens think and what its government is doing (although the EU also helps overcome collective action problems on a international level). Similarly, the fact that the French care about the issue explains why its government can get succeed in imposing a carbon tax on individuals (like the Swedes before it) and the fact that the Australian public wants action will mean that its government will succeed in pushing through a cap and trade regime. The fact that Americans care less about the issue than anyone else in the developed world explains why the US government will struggle to do the same.

While I was a big fan of Freakonomics, your treatment of the economics of climate change is a travesty.


lottery blog

The Earth's climate is changing. We need to avoid making the problem worse, so cutting carbon emissions is a priority. But all of us - individuals, businesses, Government and public authorities - will also need to adapt our behaviour to respond to the challenges of climate change.


It's not really the case that 'environmental and global-warming concerns are, on the surface at least, acutely more pronounced here than in the U.S.' - it is more that for government, commercial concerns and public life global warming and the need to reduce CO2 are a matter of fact and of policy and actively being worked on.

And despite rising warming scepticism - fuelled almost entirely by US input - the majority of the UK poplation are in favour to some extent of green issues, fair trade, recycling, public transport and not wastefully using up the world's resources.

From here the US 'we'll work out some way we can continue to drive as much as we like' attitude seems increasingly strange.


@Anon (25)

You have made the same mistake as Fiodor (18). Fair trade, recycling, the use of public transport and ensuring the appropriate use of scarce resources are important inssues and have a significant level of support (as they should).

However, these issues are totally unrelated to Climate Change. I strongly support true environmental considerations (and would include land usage, deforestation, sustainable urbanization (all of which incidentally are climate change issues but have nothing to do with CO2)), but frankly human-caused CO2 is an unproven driver of climate change. This is what is causing the disconnect for a lot of people.

The more resources, effort and diluted public support that is spent on climate change, and the more that people are confused about the distinction I have just made, then the less time effort and resources that will be spent on true pollution and environmental concerns.

If your assertion that UK population is supportive of "other green" issues is right (and I'm sure it is) then they have the balance right:
- protect the environment by managing resources and real pollution(check)
- waste time worring about CO2 (no thanks).


Paul L.

At least UK and US seem to worry about climate-change and enviromental issues. Here in Brazil, the foreign policy is to holler that we are the most green country, and that the Amazon Forest shall be preserved at any cost by brazilians and other citizens of the world, however, non of this is actually applied in people's real lifestyle. I'm saying that because I live in a city encrusted in the Amazon (Manaus is the city, by the way), and I do not see any kind of advertisement on streets.
Well, I don't know if inducing adults into guilt is the right approach. Somethig must be done, though.


'Remember the lesson of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.'

You know in that story, the wolf showed up at the end and ate the boy, right? :-)

- Ari


(Update to the IPCC report, with some discussion of economic considerations)

With scientific reports like that coming out, I don't see how people don't get it.

I can only conclude that they'll make a ton of money on this book for being "cool and rebellious to that evil religious scientific establishment" or that they just want the fame.

Too bad telling the truth doesn't get you the same thing. And I feel sorry for the guy they misquoted.


Your treatment of the global warming issue shows a devastating ignorance that makes one consider again the weight and import of your entire oeuvre. One reason that Europeans are much more concerned that Americans is that they have seen a marked change in their climate, in particular the summers, which is very clear to them.

You seem to have a very limited data set from which are are operating. Is this primarily a means to get publicity by being contrarian? Good for you...bad for the rest of us.

Sam Spoon

Contrary to what these authors think (and what their supporters will no doubt insist upon) you cannot reduce everything in life to economic terms. Similarly you cannot reduce data about climate change to an argument about whether people should adjust their lifestyles or not. Your "lifestyle" is exactly what is most threatened by climate change. Animal and plant life, even mankind will almost certainly survive the most extreme climate changes. They have done for thousands and millions of years.

21st Century civilization may not prove so resilient.