Floods following a storm in Perth

Almost one in five people in Western Australia have named climate change as the biggest issue facing Australia, the latest Roy Morgan poll has found, outstripping the level of concern in all other states by 10 per cent or more.

It also outranked the state’s respondents’ concerns about the economy, unemployment, terrorism and human rights issues.

Curtin University researcher and recently elected Perth councillor Jemma Green told The Fifth Estate the reason people in WA were more concerned about climate change was because the impacts were already being felt, and have been for some years.

“The impacts of climate change will be significant to all people everywhere, but not to all people equally,” Ms Green said.

“West Australians will feel the effects more than other Australians. In fact, they already are.

“We share this vulnerability with other Mediterranean climates along the same latitudes on the west of all continents.”

The impacts being experienced include warming and drying trends that have been observable since the 1950s, which correlates with global data charting the exponential increase in greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

Image: Ross Garnaut
Image: Ross Garnaut

Ms Green said the science showed that over the past 60 years, average rainfall in the state had fallen from 860mm a year to 670mm, and continues to decline. During the same period average maximum temperatures have risen from 23.75 degrees to 25.5 degrees.

“Human-induced climate change has barely begun, and consensus science tells us to expect the reduction in Perth rainfall to continue along with the increase in temperature,” Ms Green said.

Nationally, the poll showed that climate change was regarded as our most pressing national problem by seven per cent of people, a major contrast to the 18 per cent of WA respondents who named it as the number one problem.

Other issues named by people around the country when asked the open-ended question, “What do you think is the most pressing problem facing Australia?”, included the economy/economic problems and interest rates (11 per cent), unemployment (11 per cent), poverty and the gap between the rich and poor (four per cent), globalisation/ fairer world trade (two per cent) and over reliance on the mining Industry (2 per cent), and general environmental problems (three per cent).

However, when asked to name what they thought was the most pressing problem facing the world, 21 per cent of people said “environmental issues”, the majority naming climate change specifically. The environment ranked only behind wars/terrorism/security issues, named by 30 per cent of respondents as the number one issue.

The survey was conducted by phone between October 13-15 2015, and a cross-section of 647 persons over the age of 14 were interviewed.

State by state breakdown on the most important issue facing Australia

  • New South Wales: The Economy/ Economic problems/ Interest rates (11 per cent), Unemployment (seven per cent), Leadership from politicians/Courage to lead/Lack of vision ( seven per cent) Climate change/Global warming (five per cent)
  • Victoria: Unemployment (15 per cent), The Economy/Economic problems/Interest rates (eight per cent), Climate change/Global warming (seven per cent), Terrorism (seven per cent), Immigration (six per cent) and Leadership from politicians/Courage to lead/Lack of vision (six per cent)
  • Queensland: The Economy/Economic problems/Interest rates (11 per cent), Unemployment (eight per cent), Terrorism (eight per cent), Climate change/Global warming (six per cent) and Religion/Religious fundamentalism (five per cent)
  • Western Australia: Climate change/Global warming (18 per cent), The Economy/Economic problems/Interest rates (17 per cent); Refugees and Asylum seekers (nine per cent), Unemployment (eight per cent) and Terrorism (seven per cent)
  • South Australia: Unemployment (35 per cent); Health Issues (14 per cent), Drugs and Drug abuse (nine per cent) and Leadership from Politicians/Courage to lead/Lack of vision (six per cent)
  • Tasmania: The Economy/Economic problems/Interest rates (24 per cent), Refugees and Asylum seekers (11 per cent), Unemployment (10 per cent), Poverty and the Gap between the rich and the poor (nine per cent), Health issues (eight per cent), Religion/Religious fundamentalism (eight per cent), and Greed/Corporate greed/Materialism (eight per cent)