I came across a surprising headline in the UK last night claiming that, “Three Quarters Believe Global Warming A 'Natural Occurrence.'” The “poll” was conducted by an UK publisher called Pocket Issue and their findings are in stark contrast to all of the polling data I have seen showing an ever-increasing number of people around the world convinced that global warming is caused by human activity, namely our reliance on burning fossil fuels, like oil, gas and coal, to produce energy.
In fact a recent BBC sponsored poll found that 66% of the British population believe that global warming is a result of human activity. The difference between this BBC poll and the Pocket Issue one is that while the BBC poll used a randomly selected cross-section of the British population, the Pocket Issue poll (find it here) used a “straw poll” method in which people simply go online and vote for their favored response. A random sample ensures that the opinions you are gathering are representative of a larger population (give or take a certain amount of error) and allows you to make claims about what that larger population's opinion is on a given subject.
In other words, if I randomly draw 1,200 people in the UK, call them and ask whether they believe global warming is caused by human activity, I can then make an inference on what the entire population of the United Kingdom believes (sorry for the simplicity to all the statisticians out there).
The Pocket Issue “poll” doesn't do this and the only conclusion that can be drawn from their online vote is that three-quarters of the 4,000 people who voted online believe that global warming is a natural occurrence. Even that conclusion is tenuous given the relative ease with which such online polls can be manipulated in favor of some tech-savvy voter's preferred outcome (i.e. I voted 5 times on the Pocket Issue poll).
Emma Hardcastle, the Pocket Issue publisher said in their press release that, “if 71% of people feel that Man has nothing to do with the recent change in our climate then those same people are not going to buy into any movement to reduce their carbon footprint. We need to make it clear that there is nothing natural about the significant rise in both carbon emissions and global temperatures since the industrial revolution. “
The punchline and Hardcastle's proposed solution for the all this apparent ignorance amongst the UK citizenry? Buy Pocket Issue's guide to global warming, of course: “Pocket Issue’s brief is to help people to understand the facts, encouraging them to click through to a carbon counter as a result,” Hardcastle states.
What Pocket Issue doesn't understand is that their misleading poll findings are now being picked up around the internet and being reported as evidence that people are not buying into global warming “hype” and “alarmism.”
By making such headlines, Pocket Issue is manufacturing a problem and it is spreading misinformation about the true state of public understanding on the important issue of global warming. And of course the irony is that somehow Pocket Issue believes that its efforts are helping “people understand the facts.”