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Kristin Eberhard’s Blog

New Poll: Americans Believe Global Warming is Real and Threatens Their Families

Kristin Eberhard

Posted October 24, 2012

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A new national survey reveals that a whopping 70 percent of Americans believe global warming is very real, a substantial surge over the past two and a half years, while those viewing it as a direct threat to themselves or their families are the highest levels ever, according to survey results released last week.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. residents denying the existence of climate change declined almost by half to a relatively few 12 percent since January 2010.

Global Warming Graph.bmp

While acknowledging further analysis is necessary to determine precisely why Americans increasingly say they believe in global warming, researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, the organizations that conducted the survey, justifiably speculated a likely factor is extreme weather with a record number of heat waves, droughts, wildfires and violent storms.

It appears Americans once again are connecting the dots between severe weather events and climate change. If you have doubts about the link, consider Oklahoma’s massive dust storm last week.

Ironically, the survey by the Yale Project and George Mason University Center Climate Change Communication groups comes just days after the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported September was the 331st straight month with above-average global temperatures and tied with September 2005 for the warmest on record worldwide.

Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University says U.S. beliefs about climate change declined from 2008 to 2010, but have now bounced almost all the way back. The survey shows Americans’ belief increased 13 percentage points from 57 percent in January 2010 to 70 percent last month. Meanwhile, the number who claim global warming is fiction plummeted from 20 percent to 12 percent today.

Not only that, but those who believe global warming is happening or more certain of that than are those who think it is not happening.  A strong majority (57%) of those who believe climate changes is real are “extremely sure” (27%) or “very sure” (30%) it is. In contrast, those who think global warming is not happening are not so sure of themselves anymore – only 15% are “extremely sure” they are right.Global Warming Certainty Graph.bmp

The Yale-George Mason analysis also said that for the first time since 2008, more than half of Americans (54%) believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities, up eight points just since March. Those who contend it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment declined from 37percent to 30 percent – the lowest level since the survey began.

Last week's report dovetails with Yale-George Mason findings earlier this year that Americans think global warming should be a priority of the president and Congress (72%) and more should be done by corporations and industry (70%) and citizens, themselves (67%).

Those findings reinforced other surveys showing  people strongly back initiatives to limit carbon pollution, such as the August survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California that found 71 percent of all adults support California’s groundbreaking AB 32 and its mandate of rolling back the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

As California moves forward with implementation of AB 32 and the launch of the nation’s first economy wide carbon market, it’s clear Americans, and particularly Californians, want action to stop what they increasingly believe is a serious threat to their families and the world around them – climate change.

Last week’s other major findings include:

  • Over half of Americans (58%) say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” about global warming -- the highest level since November 2008.
  • For the first time since 2008, they’re more likely to believe that most scientists agree that global warming is occurring than believe there’s widespread disagreement on the subject – 44 percent versus 36 percent, respectively – up nine points since March.
  • Three out of four Americans (76%) say they trust climate scientists as a source of information about global warming, making them the most trusted source asked about in the survey. The researchers also found that scientists (who do not specialize in climate) are also trusted by a majority of Americans (67%), as are TV weather reporters (60%).  

If all these statistics make your head spin, one thing should be clear – Americans believe global warming is a legitimate threat and policymakers need to take note of that and act. Good thing California has a head start.

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Terence ConklinOct 25 2012 11:19 AM

Once again, I am pushed int that 12% of non believers because I don't buy the whole religion of "Climate Change". Most Democrats sign on as a matter of faith and really haven't a clue what is going on. Most Republicans follow their leaders and are skeptics mainly because the pack is filled with Democrats. I am a retired research chemist so I can not be called an ignorant anything but I just have had it with people who label their debate premise with their whole agenda. Yes, I believe the climate is changing. It always has so why not? Yes, I believe CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas. Yes, I believe there are numerous reasons to cut down on fossil fuel use. BUT: I don't know if warming is on a nonstop path. I doubt that. I don't know if warming will lead to catastrophe. I doubt it. I don't know if warming is not a good thing. I might turn out to be good, but I don't know. I do know several things. I know the climate has cycled numerous times over eons of time. I do know that high CO2 will lead to high utilization of CO2 by plants. I do know that the earth will rebound and I do believe that man's tinkering may well mess it up for a time but will in the end be inconsequential.

Kristin Grenfell EberhardOct 25 2012 12:35 PM

Terence – thank you for your comment. Regarding the possibility that global warming could be good for us, or at least not bad: there are some potential positive impacts, notably improved agricultural output in some northern regions that currently are not productive, but the negative far outweigh the positives. Much of the reason for that is

Regarding the climate has cycled in the past: yes, the climate has cycled in and out of glacial periods on a roughly 120,000 year cycles. However, the change we are seeing is caused by manmade emissions not by natural cycles, and is happening about 10 times faster than those natural cycles. We have seen this kind of rapid change once before, namely 250 million years ago when about 90% of life on earth went extinct. So yes it has happened, but the lesson we can learn from that is not "this has happened before, and everything is going to be Ok" but rather "something like this has happened before – oh my god, if we want our species to survive, we need to do everything we can to slow this change down"

Regarding the earth will rebound: of course the earth will carry on, it just might not include human civilization. So if all you care about is that the earth exists and there is some form of life on it (dinosaurs, humans, bacteria, whatever), then there is no need to worry about climate change and - it will be, as you say "inconsequential" to the earth itself. If you want that form of life to be a thriving human civilization, then the evidence says there are very big consequences for us if we do not take urgent action.

DesertphileOct 28 2012 07:51 PM

They "believe" it? Nobody here in the Information Age should believe that human-caused climate change happened and is happening. The evidence is conclusive that it happened and is
happening. Meanwhile, all of the science experts in the venue agree human-caused climate change happened and is happening.

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