At a property industry event last week we got talking to a climate sceptic. The conversation centered, as it does these days, not on whether climate change is occurring – not many are now denying that – but whether humans are responsible.

He was an older man and so fits the profile of many anthropogenic-driven climate change deniers.

The Lowy Institute’s recent poll on climate change, released on Wednesday, shows that older people are not as concerned as younger people. This makes sense, if you look at expected relative impacts on younger and older people.

The survey found:

Australians under 45 years are more likely to regard global warming as “a serious and pressing problem” (51 per cent) compared with 40 per cent of those 45 years and older.

But in terms of overall trends, our denier was part of a shrinking group.

Reproduced with permission from the Lowy Institute

The poll found concern about climate change continued to rise for the second year in a row after a period of falling concern after 2006 that coincided with the financial crisis and massive rise in anti-climate rhetoric. The Lowy Institute found:

This year, 45 per cent of the population now see global warming as a “serious and pressing problem”, up five points since last year, while still considerably lower than the 68 per cent who held this view in 2006.

Thirty-eight per cent support the intermediate proposition that “the problem of global warming should be addressed, but its effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost”.

Only 15 per cent take the most sceptical view that “until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs”.

But our older denier was educated in the sciences, at least in terms of property investment – valuation – so in that sense he bucked the trend.

The Lowy Institute poll found education was a factor that encouraged concern about climate:

Only 37 per cent of those with Year 11 or lower education choosing the most serious option, compared with 50 per cent of those with Year 12.

Our denier considered himself to have some knowledge of how to assess climate modelling. His biggest issue was that he hadn’t seen the kind of modelling that he needed to convince him.

This is reminiscent of the problem you find in property investment and get-rich-quick schemes. The prosecutors of these schemes tend to wrap up their marketing with “education” in property investment. This hands the victims enough tools to think they know something about the issues; it gives them some jargon and some technical know-how – enough so they can tell themselves they are now experts. Then the “educators”/spruikers set their students loose. The results are sometimes catastrophic and no amount of media coverage of the victims and techniques in newspapers or television stems the tide of fresh victims willing to learn how to beat the system and get rich, quick.

Reproduced with permission from the Lowy Institute

So who’s fault is climate change and who’s responsible for fixing it?

In speaking with our climate denier, we resorted to our usual response of saying, “Say you are right, that climate change isn’t occurring at frightening rates instead of the glacial pace of past millennia: what do you think we should do? Continue with business as usual, pumping pollution into the air and rubbish into the seas?

Well of course not, our denier said.

The Lowy Institute Poll found that in terms of responsibilities and response, most people want action to reduce emissions.

63 per cent of respondents said that the Australian government “should be taking a leadership role on reducing emissions”.

And

Only 28 per cent think that Australia “should wait for an international consensus before acting”, and very few (seven per cent) express the view that Australia “should do nothing”.

In this regard our denier is in step with the majority trend. We need to reduce our pollution – if our denier agrees that carbon is indeed a pollution, which his response suggested.

But maybe he fell into the group of respondents who thought that we should wait for international consensus before acting, since he added that we should take action on pollution “within reason”.

It’s the definition of what reason is that makes the biggest difference.

And again age is the thing that seems to weary them.

The poll found that if you are young, you very much want action.

A very substantial 70 per cent of adults aged 18-44 years say that Australia should take a leadership role, compared with 56 per cent of those aged 45 and older.

Ah, the old horse of self interest. Always a winner.

See the Lowy Institute Poll interactive