Americans don't agree about global warming

Jacob Turcotte

As I looked over the news release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, detailing a new study that global warming is going to be twice as bad as previously predicted, I knew that anywhere from 30 to 49 percent of people reading or hearing the news were going to be doubtful about some or all of it.

The doubt won't surprise any regular reader of this blog – where visitors often vigorously debate this issue. But how could I be reasonably confident of those specific numbers of doubters?

Because of a survey last fall from Yale and George Mason universities. It asked more than 2,000 Americans about their beliefs in global warming. Here's a summary of what they found. (You can read the whole thing by clicking here.)

Fifty-one percent believe global warming is happening and is a serious problem:

– Eighteen percent of those surveyed "strongly support a variety of climate change policies, such as regulating CO2 as a pollutant," says the survey's summary.

– The other 33 percent aren't taking many personal steps to save energy or reduce their carbon footprint, but do pay attention in purchasing decisions to which companies are taking steps to help slow climate change.

Both of these groups are more likely to identify themselves with the Democratic Party or as independents than as Republicans. They're likely to trust climate information from scientists, environmental organizations, Al Gore, and President Obama.

At the other end of the spectrum:

– Seven percent of respondents (64 percent of them Republicans) said that they're positive that global warming isn't happening, so they don't worry about it. They prefer media sources that reflect their own political point of view and distrust mainstream media.

– Eleven percent said they weren't sure if global warming was a reality, but even if it were, it wouldn't happen for a century. Fifty-six percent of these doubters are Republicans; 24 percent are independents. They trust friends and family as sources of information on climate change.

– Twelve percent don't give global warming much thought and aren't sure if its real or a threat to future generations. More (41 percent) are Democrats than Republicans (23 percent). They listen to friends and family to form views on global warming, but do trust scientists -- and television weather reporters.

In the middle, kinda wavering, is a group the survey calls "the cautious." Nineteen percent of those responding, these people think global warming may be real, but they could change their minds. They tend not to think much about the issue and believe that if anything happens, it won't occur for at least 35 years.

One-third of the cautious identify themselves as Republican, and 32 percent say they're Democrats. Eighteen percent are independent. For global warming information, they trust scientists, followed by family and friends and TV weather reporters.

“When we talk about ‘the American public’ and its views on global warming, that’s a misnomer,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Forestry & Environmental Science Project on Climate Change and a co-author of the report.. “There is no single American voice on this issue.”

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