It it 'extremism' to believe in climate change? 4 in 10 people say it is

European Space AgencyA section of an iceberg – about 6,000 sq km – broke away as part of the natural cycle of iceberg calving off the Larsen-C ice shelf in Antarctica

Four in ten people believe it counts as 'extremism' to believe that climate change is an important global problem made worse by humans. Three out of 10 also believe it is extreme to believe the UK should remain in the EU. Nearly four in ten believe it is extreme to back Brexit.

Meanwhile, fewer than half those questioned believe it extreme to believe children should not be assigned a gender at birth.

The polling suggests that talk of extremism is a 'recipe for chaos'. Calling views extremist is extremely unhelpful

The research, commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance and other organisations from ComRes, found that more than half of the public think using the word 'extreme' is not helpful in social and political discussion.

Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, said: 'The language of extremism is a recipe for chaos and division. This poll shows the scale of moral confusion in our society with the public having no way of deciding whether something is extreme or not.

'It also shows the division that might ensue if the government persist in trying to use extremism as a way of regulating peaceful ideas in society.

'Detached from terrorism and incitement to violence, extremism does not work as a litmus test for judging peaceful beliefs and opinions. Indeed, the government have tried and failed over the last two years to define extremism with any precision and this poll shows that the public share that confusion.'

Peculiar findings in the polling demonstrate the difficulty in using the term 'extreme' to define peaceful ideas and opinions. Nearly four in 10 consider it extreme to believe that climate change is an important global problem made worse by human behaviours, and almost half the public think it is not extreme to believe animals have the same rights as humans.

Dr Landrum added: 'Ideas which I would expect to be uncontested – such as paying women the same as men – were classed by many as extreme.

'The willingness to classify political views which should be respected, such as leaving or staying in the EU, as "extreme", shows the danger of focusing the extremism debate on beliefs we may find uncomfortable or disagree with, rather than on actions that threaten lives.'

The Evangelical Alliance and the other groups who commissioned the poll are calling for the government to approach this topic with 'extreme caution', and to ensure that the widest possible range of groups, including those of faith, are involved in any future extremism commission that may be established.

Dr Landrum concluded: 'The government have failed to define extremism, and the public are clearly divided about which ideas are extremist. It therefore seems unlikely that a newly established quango, such as an extremism commission, will solve such problems. It is not wise to foster a society where volatile public opinion can be used to determine what might be extreme or acceptable views.'