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Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


May 4, 2009

Climate Change Views: Nate Silver Shows What We Need to Do

Category: Climate Change,Cool Sites,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:09 pm

During my obsessive period prior to the latest Presidential Election, I read a lot, but I came to trust one view of the world: FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s brilliant blog, started as a vehicle to predict the outcome of the 2008 election. He is a statistician (of the highest order, not an econometrician, but a baseball statistician — they’re the ones that really have to get it right).

Rather than conducting polls, he pumped polling data from numerous sources into his own models that accounted for the bias, trends, methods and other factors the skew polling data, then posted his results with an unapologetic liberal viewpoint. He seemed to correctly predict most outcomes of that election.

For a moment after the election, he wondered aloud what he would do now that the election was over. But it quickly became clear that his work was not done — he called the tight senate race in Minnesota well before others, and has done a lot of other cool stuff since. Nate Silver has a knack for presenting dense statistical data in a clear and useful way.

I read a post of his from several weeks back, in which he analyzed the results of a poll on people’s views of on climate change. Here’s a graph from his results, showing a very, very important result: we don’t think global warming will affect us (even if it will affect everyone else):

His assessment is simple:

Advocates of cap-and-trade may need to find ways to personalize the terms of the debate.

I encourage you to read his post on this topic; his conclusion is appropriately impassive and pragmatic.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Tom,

    I’m not sure it changes Nate’s conclusion any, but that graphic is somewhat misleading.

    First, it visually represents the 32% at the bottom in an area which is tiny compared to the 62% at the top, when it should really be about half the size to be fair. If you don’t look at the numbers (and who does, when there’s a graphic to look at instead!) you get the wrong picture entirely.

    Secondly, as New Scientist points out (http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/04/how-many-americans-believe-tha.html) it is not true that only 32% believe climate change will harm them. It’s 56%, the difference being the extra 24% who believe it will harm them “only a little”. Mind you, I have no idea what ‘only a little harm’ means, that’s a rather vague term!

    As I say, I’m not sure that would change the conclusion Nate comes to. I’ve long suspected people don’t take climate-change seriously enough because they don’t take it personally enough.

    Tony.

    Comment by Tony Wildish — May 5, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

  2. Tony —

    Thanks for the New Scientist link — it’s a good article, and perhaps a little more balanced.

    Yeah, it should probably be a funnel chart — misleading graphics like this bum me out a little (I am frequently amused when newspapers and magazines clip the range values on the vertical axis of a chart, thereby visually amplifying the effect … or lack thereof).

    But graphics aside, the chart (and the larger survey) show that we’re probably only about half-way there in terms of educating the population about climate change — people are aware of the issue, get how it could be bad, believe we’re causing it, but then kind of fade out when it comes to how it will affect them, personally. And I think this was a reasonable conclusion, if a poor graphic presentation by Silver’s graph.

    But from whatever angle we’re looking at the the numbers, we’re all coming to the same conclusion: people are still confused about climate change, cap and trade, and not quite sure of why it matters enough for them to care.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — May 5, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

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