LONDON (Reuters) - Climate change scientists and politicians must be “more realistic and less preachy” if they are to persuade a sometimes sceptical public to support the urgent action needed to tackle global warming, a British minister said on Wednesday.
Climate change minister Greg Barker said some experts had turned people against them by being too forthright and refusing to acknowledge any uncertainties about the science.
Recent polls suggest a majority of the public is unconvinced by the mainstream scientific view that man is contributing to climate change. That poses a headache for governments seeking to spend billions on switching to low carbon economies.
“A lot of this is about tone,” Barker said at the launch of a new Google Earth map showing the devastating effects of a warmer planet. “There was a slight sense that the climate community, of which politicians of course are a large part, got what was coming to them, just by being a little bit too preachy, a little bit on the higher moral tone.
“It was not necessary. I am not a scientist, but I know that they don’t have to deal in absolutes.”
Although the evidence behind the science is overwhelming, climate experts should try to be “more realistic, less preachy, more inclusive and a little bit more tolerant”, he added.
Britain, which was the first country to set legally-binding greenhouse gas emissions targets, has sought to play a leading role in the fight against global warming.
However, the country’s climate scientists have faced months of scrutiny and negative headlines since the leak of emails from a climate research centre in eastern England last year.
The emails prompted critics to question the unit’s data, some of which formed part of a landmark United Nations report into climate change. A handful of inaccuracies in the report also gave ammunition to climate sceptics.
While several inquiries have cleared the UK scientists of wrongdoing and upheld the quality of their research, the damage has already been done, according to Britain’s chief scientific advisor John Beddington.
“There is absolutely no doubt that there is a problem with public confidence on climate science,” he said. “The public’s perception of climate change has changed.”
A poll by Cardiff University in June showed that Britain has become more sceptical about climate change, although the majority still believed it was happening.
In the poll, 78 percent of people surveyed thought the world’s climate was changing compared to 91 percent in 2005, while 40 percent of people thought the seriousness of climate change was exaggerated.
A BBC poll in February found only a fifth of people thought climate change was “established as largely manmade”.
Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham said the scientific evidence was so compelling that governments must act. His department has created a new online world map that shows the dangers posed by a possible 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in average temperatures.
The map, based on Google Earth and computer climate models, paints a picture of rising sea levels, crop failures and water shortages. Details are online at www.fco.gov.uk/4degrees. (Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)