There can be few debates that provoke quite such a polarised reaction as climate change. There is a strong media narrative that continues to challenge the science whilst steps to address the issue are portrayed as being anti-growth and imposing yet more unnecessary restrictions on everyday freedoms.
Against this background, what is current public perception on the issue? To get an understanding Hubbub UK - working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) - commissioned a public opinion poll as part of the #backclimatechange tweetathon taking place on Tuesday 25th November. The results surprised me.
The first surprise was the strength of opinion that action needs to be taken now and cannot wait. A significant 73% of people felt that world leaders must urgently agree a global deal to tackle climate change. An equal number agreed that there would be benefits to taking action now whilst only 20% felt that things could be delayed a few years. This seems counter-intuitive as political leaders of all colours seem reluctant to come out strongly in favour of climate action. Perhaps a highly vocal minority is swaying political opinions away from what the mainstream seem to want.
The second surprise was the level of deep uncertainty as to how taking action on climate change would impact on daily lives. Just under a quarter of those surveyed did not know how climate change would affect them.
This demonstrates the failure to successfully communicate climate change impacts to the mainstream. As with any period of significant change there will be winners and losers. An honest and open debate would help increase awareness and better prepare people for the changes scientists tell us are inevitable.
On the winning side there will be revolutionary new technology that will enhance our quality of lives whilst reducing carbon emissions. There can't help but be a buzz of excitement when you see how companies like BMW and Tesla are responding to the challenge of providing lower carbon vehicles. Some of the appliances that will soon appear from companies like Bosch and Siemens will transform our kitchens into high tech, low carbon centres helping us to better manage food waste.
But we also need to be clear that there will potentially be losers. More extreme weather will cause an increasing number of households to face the heart-breaking reality of having their homes flooded. Seasonal weather variations will impact farming possibly causing basic foods prices to spike. Some carbon intensive industries will also face increasingly difficult market conditions, causing job losses and hitting local communities. Inevitably in any period of transition it will be the most vulnerable who will find it hardest to cope and who will need the most support.
It is against the backdrop of this research that the decision by DECC to run the #backclimatechange tweetathon should be applauded. The day will give an opportunity for people to hear what steps are currently being taken by a huge variety of organisations to address climate change. It will also allow them to raise questions and concerns directly with those who are leading the change.
The research also reinforces my growing belief that there is a crucial role for the charity I have recently created, Hubbub UK, in our attempts to communicate environmental messages in a compelling way to the mainstream. The sooner we help people realise the impact that climate change will have on their daily lives, the greater will be their understanding of the need to act and the quicker they will be able to adapt.