Opinions are like noses — everyone has one. While opinions aren’t really worth much — I am of the opinion that I am one of the world’s best writers, for instance, but few share that view — they are important indicators of how people may vote in upcoming elections. In a poll conducted by the Yale Program On Climate Change Communication and the Center For Climate Change Communication at George Mason University entitled “Climate Change In The American Mind, October 2017,” respondents indicated a heightened awareness of climate change issues and an elevated level of concern for the future. The Executive Summary reproduced below tells the story in detail.
“This report documents an upward trend in Americans’ concern about global warming, as reflected in several key indicators tracked since 2008, including substantial increases in Americans’ certainty that global warming is happening and harming people in the United States now. The percentage of Americans that are very worried about global warming has more than doubled since its lowest point in 2011. Increasing numbers of Americans say they have personally experienced global warming and that the issue is personally important to them. Details on these and other measures of global warming beliefs and attitudes are described below:
- Seven in ten Americans (71%) think global warming is happening, an increase of eight percentage points since March 2015. Only about one in eight Americans (13%) think global warming is not happening. Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by more than 5 to 1.
- Americans are also becoming certain global warming is happening – 47% are “extremely” or “very” sure it is happening, an increase of 10 percentage points since March 2015. By contrast, far fewer – 7% – are “extremely” or “very sure” global warming is not happening.
- Over half of Americans (54%) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. By contrast, one in three (33%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
- Only about one in seven Americans (15%) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.
- More than six in ten Americans (63%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. About one in five (22%) are “very worried” about it – the highest levels since our surveys began, and twice the proportion that were “very worried” in March 2015.
- Two in three Americans feel “interested” in global warming (67%), and more than half feel “disgusted” (55%) or “helpless” (52%). Fewer than half feel “hopeful” (44%).
- Nearly two in three Americans (64%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and one in three think weather is being affected “a lot” (33%), an increase of 8 percentage points since May 2017.
- A majority of Americans think global warming made several extreme events in 2017 worse, including the heat waves in California (55%) and Arizona (51%), hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria (54%), and wildfires in the western U.S. (52%).
- More than three in four Americans (78%) are interested in learning about how global warming is or is not affecting extreme weather events.
- More than four in ten Americans (44%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, an increase of 13 percentage points since March 2015.
- Four in ten Americans (42%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now.” The proportion that believes people are being harmed “right now” has increased by 10 percentage points since March 2015.
- Half of Americans think they (50%) or their family (54%) will be harmed by global warming. Even more think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (67%), the world’s poor or people in developing countries (both 71%), future generations of people (75%) or plant and animal species (75%).
- Most Americans think global warming will have future impacts, causing more melting glaciers (67%), severe heat waves (64%), droughts and water shortages (63%), floods (61%), and other impacts over the next 20 years.
- Two in three Americans (67%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely” (12%), “very” (19%), or “somewhat” (37%) important to them personally, while one in three (33%) say it is either “not too” (19%) or “not at all” (14%) important personally. The proportion that say it is personally important has increased by 11 percentage points since March 2015.
- Nearly four in ten Americans (38%) say they discuss global warming with family and friends “often” or “occasionally,” an increase of 12 percentage points since March 2015. However, more say they “rarely” or “never” discuss it (62%). Additionally, half of Americans (51%) say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month, and one in four (25%) say they hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month.
- More than half of Americans (54%) say they have thought “a lot” (22%) or “some” (32%) about global warming. Fewer say they have thought about global warming just “a little” (32%) or “not at all” (14%).
- Few Americans are confident that humans will reduce global warming. Nearly half (48%) say humans could reduce global warming, but it’s unclear at this point whether we will do what is necessary, and one in four (25%) say we won’t reduce global warming because people are unwilling to change their behavior. Only 5% say humans can and will successfully reduce global warming.
- Large majorities of Americans think of global warming as an environmental (78%), scientific (71%), agricultural (66%), severe weather (65%), health (62%), economic (60%), or political issue (60%). Fewer think it is a moral (41%), national security (29%), poverty (28%), social justice (26%), or religious issue (9%).
Note: the emphasis applied to certain portions of the Executive Summary is in the original document.
Two findings from the poll stand out to me. First, only 15% of Americans say they are aware that the vast majority of climate scientists agree climate change is caused by human activity. What could possibly explain such a statistic? Inadequate coverage by news organizations — companies worried about losing advertising dollars if they spend too much time talking about climate change — is the most likely explanation.
Second, a third of the people polled believe climate change is related to natural causes. It is probably no coincidence that the same percentage of people continue to support the one man on earth who is working tirelessly to take America out of the Paris climate accords, destroy the EPA, reinvigorate the coal industry, and slash funding for climate science.
Will these opinions have an impact on American politics? The next Congressional elections are now less than a year away. If Americans continue to support climate change deniers when they vote, opinion polls like this one will be relevant only to those who make their living designing, conducting, and interpreting polls. If the news media won’t tell Americans about climate science, it becomes incumbent on each of us individually to spread the word and sound the alarm.
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