More older Kiwis accept human-driven climate change is happening

More older Kiwis have accepted the scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by humans, shows a new research that’s tracked beliefs over a decade.

In the study, just published in major journal Nature Communications, researchers analysed the views of more than 56,000 Kiwis, who were divided into 12 groups based on their year of birth.

Over a 10-year period, from 2009 to 2018, the participants were asked the degree to which they agreed with two statements: that “climate change is real” and that “climate change is caused by humans”.

While younger people started with greater concerns about climate change than older people, the research revealed that all birth cohorts increased in the strength of their beliefs that climate change was real and caused by humans – and at similar rates.

“Although a generation gap was observed at baseline levels of climate change beliefs, there was no generation gap in rate of increase in beliefs, and these findings were not qualified by respondents’ gender,” the study authors reported.

“These findings indicate that, over the last 10 years, all birth cohorts are increasing in their belief that climate change is real and that climate change is caused by humans, suggesting these beliefs are somewhat malleable.”

While agreement levels in the reality of climate change and its human causation was going up at the same rate, older people were starting from a lower point.

“That is, a climate change generation gap is present in baseline levels of climate change beliefs, but the rate of increase in levels of climate beliefs does not differ across age cohorts,” the authors said.

“Both younger and older people are accelerating in their belief at a comparable rate.”

The researchers also found that, across the decade, there was a greater increase in belief about anthropogenic climate change – a rise of 17 per cent – than in belief that climate change was real, up 14 per cent, across all age cohorts.

“This is perhaps due to the fact that belief levels for climate change reality were higher overall than belief levels for anthropogenic climate change, meaning there was not much room for an increase in climate reality belief,” explained the study’s leader, Dr Taciano Milfont of the University of Waikato.

He said the research, which drew on data from the longitudinal New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, provided some indication that climate communication was working, and that all generations were becoming much more aware of the issue.

“The findings are positive in the sense they indicate people have become increasingly aware of the issue,” he said.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that those concerns will translate into action, but hopefully they do.

“It gives some hope because to tackle climate change we need collective action across the generations.”

Milfont believed questions about climate change were “simple but critical”.

“One is about the reality of it – in the beginning some people thought climate change didn’t exist; now most people say it exists, but still a few don’t agree that it is caused by humans, or anthropogenic climate change.”

He saw further scope for exploring the issue, by asking whether children were influential in sparking climate change action in their parents, and the extent to which climate communication should be tailored to distinct age groups within the population.

The study comes after polling, annually commissioned by insurer IAG, found fewer than a quarter of Kiwis think New Zealand is moving fast enough to tackle climate change, a just-released poll shows.

It also found that 79 per cent of respondents saw the Government as being responsible for taking action – up from 65 per cent in 2018 – while 71 per cent now saw businesses as also needing to play a part, a rise of 14 per cent.

Yet it suggested most didn’t think the country was on track.

Just 23 per cent thought the current response was moving fast enough, and only 37 per cent were confident that New Zealand would be able to reduce the impacts of climate change.

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