If you are a regular reader of CleanTechnica, chances are you are well informed about climate change. You know what IPCC is, what Dr. James Hansen and a hockey stick have in common, and what books Bill McKibben has written. So you would probably be surprised that even among Americans who identify themselves as alarmed about climate change, only 85% know that the vast majority of scientists agree climate change is real and is caused by human activity. Overall, only 15% of Americans say they are aware that agreement among scientists is greater than 90%.
Climate change, it seems, has a perception problem. That’s according to a joint study conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason University. Entitled Global Warming’s Six Americas, the study finds that even well informed Americans do not realize the degree to which scientists agree about what is happening to the Earth’s environment and why. The study divides Americans into six categories based on their attitudes about climate change. The study finds,
“The Alarmed are fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it. The Concerned are also convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged the issue personally.
“Three other Americas — the Cautious, the Disengaged, and the Doubtful — represent different stages of understanding and acceptance of the problem, and none are actively involved. The final America — the Dismissive — are very sure it is not happening and are actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
“The important finding in the Yale and George Mason survey is that even Americans who are Alarmed and Concerned about climate change badly underestimate the level of expert agreement on its human cause.” reports The Guardian. In fact, only 84% of people in the Alarmed group and 73% of those in the Concerned category say they know 97% of all scientists agree that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity.
Why is this information important? “Numerous social science papers have found that the perceived consensus acts as a ‘gateway belief,’ meaning that when people are aware of the high level of expert agreement on human-caused global warming, they’re more likely to accept that reality and support policies to address the problem,” says The Guardian.
A research note in the journal Nature from 2017 references recent behavioral research projects that show exposing people to the truth about scientific consensus has a greater effect on people who identify themselves as conservatives than those who say they are liberals. Accurate information is more powerful than political ideology.
In an era where “alternative facts” are the stock in trade of the ruling political party, correct information is still the best way to help people understand the impact that human behavior has on the environment and adjust their behavior accordingly. 97% of scientist agree humans are responsible for changes in the environment. It’s time to get that information into the public domain to counter the misrepresentations of those who would have us believe that there is a large difference of opinion in the scientific community. There isn’t.