Americans in record numbers now regard climate change not as an abstract possibility but a feature of the here-and-now, according to the latest polling by the highly regarded Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
Nearly half of Americans (46%) say they have personally experienced effects of global warming, and roughly the same proportion (48%) believe people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming “right now,” the Yale-George Mason team reports. Both figures are roughly one-third (15-16 points) higher than in prior surveys and are drawn from interviews with 1,114 adults conducted between Nov 28 and Dec 11 — a period that followed on the heels of the “Camp Fire” that devastated the northern California town of Paradise, but months removed from broiling summer weather in most parts of the country.
More than six in ten Americans (62%) now understand that global warming is largely human-caused, a 10-point increase from March 2015, according to the poll, which may be downloaded in summary (HTML) or full (pdf). Nevertheless, only one in five (20%) recognize the vast agreement among climate scientists around that conclusion, suggesting that the decades-long media-abetted campaign to present “both sides” has obscured this vital scientific consensus.
Here’s how the poll authors reported their key findings:
Our latest national survey finds that a large majority of Americans think global warming is happening, outnumbering those who don’t by more than 5 to 1. Americans are also growing more certain that global warming is happening and more aware that it is caused by human activities. Certainty has increased 14 percentage points since March 2015, with 51% of the public now “extremely” or “very sure” that global warming is happening. Sixty-two percent of the public now understands that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, an increase of 10 points over that same time period.
It’s well-known that political change is driven not just by yes-or-no poll figures but by salience — how strongly voters care, and whether they feel an issue personally. The Yale-George Mason poll found a record 72 percent of Americans responding that the issue of global warming is “personally important” to them. That figure is up by nine points from the previous poll last March, and the first time since November 2008 that the percentage reached 70.
The downside to this figure is not just that 28 percent called global warming either not too important or not at all important, but that it took a full decade to regain the high ground of the 2008 poll. Though the report doesn’t include cross-tabs by political allegiance, it’s virtually certain that the persistent “not important” shares, especially from 2010 through last March, reflect the tendency of many Republicans, knowing that party identity is partly centered around extractionism and climate denialism, to reject the reality of climate change.
The poll did not ask policy questions, so it has no new data on carbon tax acceptance. This is probably just as well in light of the fluid state of opinion on carbon taxing, not just among the public but on the part of climate advocates. Whether or not a carbon tax is included among Green New Deal proposals being aired in the activist community and Democratic Party circles could help determine what future polling has to say about Americans’ acceptance of carbon taxes as denialism and unconcern lose their hold on public opinion.
Drew Keeling says
The missing elephant-in-the-room headline here is: “The Lost Decade.” The graph makes clear that lack of long term progress in public awareness of climate change (comparing 2018 and 2008) cannot be blamed on the Trump Administration and its world-historic denial of basic science. Ten years is a very long time to being going at close to ‘business-as-usual’ full speed in using up the carbon budget required to avert much worse climate change than is already in the future pipeline. Speaking of the future, it is difficult to conceive of generations to come looking back at this lost decade without invoking characterizations of shameful dereliction.
I am not convinced that asking about acceptance of climate science and how “personally important” anthropogenic global climate change is, but without querying views on policy options, is necessarily a positive feature of this latest public opinion report. Other countries with stronger and less wavering percentages of the populace accepting the reality and significance of global warming, nonetheless do not have markedly better track records than the USA when it comes to actual emissions reductions. Better data on how Americans view measures (carbon taxes, green new deals, or other steps) capable of achieving bonafide substantive reductions in carbon usage, would provide a better indication of voter willingness to actually tackle climate challenges, and not merely settle for tokenist gloss on generational failure.
How carbon taxation might be meshed with a “Green New Deal,” strikes me as mainly a tactical question, not easily answered in advance of tangible attempts at national legislation, but I see no a priori reason while both approaches could not be vigorously pursued and effectively implemented, simultaneously and in tandem (as suggested in last week’s CTC report concerning Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s advocacy of both “polluter pays externality pricing” and a green new deal).
Eric Haulenbeek says
“It’s not about the climate; it never was.” Here, I would like to start with that statement. In this brief article, I will discuss why carbon dioxide isn’t the dangerous gas it is made out to be, why climate change is not an ‘existential’ threat to the planet, and why the Green New Deal is not a solution to climate change.
Is our climate changing? The answer is clearly “YES” because climate has always changed. We often define ‘climate’ as ‘average weather’ and averages are not supposed to change. If they do, the cause must be unnatural. Treating the climate as a statistical average further implies that it should be static; in fact, the Earth’s climate is dynamic, variable, and ever-changing.
Is global warming real; or, more specifically, has the surface air temperature risen about 0.6°C (1.08°F) since the late 1800s? The answer also is “YES,” and on that there is little debate.
Do humans affect the Earth’s climate?Again, the answer is “YES” with little debate. We can point to the urban heat island—for example, the Washington metropolitan area is warmer than the surrounding countryside due to the urban city and this has been widely studied. Because of impervious surfaces and the increased water demand of urbanized areas, floods and drought frequencies and intensities also are affected.
Does carbon dioxide absorb energy? Yes, certainly. The Earth’s surface is warmer than it would be in the absence of an atmosphere—by about 30°C (54°F). But remember, the most important greenhouse gas is not carbon dioxide; it is water vapor. Water cycles fast through the atmosphere, absorbing energy as it evaporates and releasing that energy as it condenses. The current amount of water in the global atmosphere will fall as precipitation in just the next ten days. Its mobility and efficiency in absorbing heat energy makes water fundamental in explaining the climate of the Earth. If the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles, what will the effect be on global air temperature?This is where the debate begins.
We seek to determine something called the equilibrium climate sensitivity—that is, the eventual rise in air temperature due to a doubling of carbon dioxide. Over the last twenty years, our estimates of the equilibrium climate sensitivity have decreased substantially, based on measurements of the climate system.
In the early 2000s, estimates were that a doubling of carbon dioxide would result in between a 3 and 6°C (5.4 and 10.8°F) warming. Since 2010, however, most estimates have placed the equilibrium climate sensitivity at less than 3°C (5.4°F), and over the last five years, several independent assessments have placed the sensitivity at about 1°C (1.8°F). This implies that the effect of a doubling of carbon dioxide has much less impact than the models suggest—their sensitivity has remained above 3°C (5.4°F) over the last two decades—which helps to explain why their estimates of warming are much higher. How do we know that carbon dioxide is a minor player in climate change? Both theory and models tell us that the biggest effect of carbon dioxide on air temperatures should lie in the upper tropical troposphere. The troposphere is the layer of the atmosphere where all weather resides. Over the last forty years, the warming of this layer has been small, whereas the models indicate the warming should have been much greater. This further underscores that climate models grossly overstate the climate warming.
Moreover, theory also indicates that daily maximum air temperatures should rise if carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate change. In fact, daily maxima have not changed substantially over the last eighty years, and before that, maximum air temperatures were much higher during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
Minimum daily air temperatures have increased, but that is associated with the warming of urban areas. Averaging these two extremes to get a daily average and then reporting that “this year is the warmest in recorded history” is highly misleading since most stations have a short record length and the warming is not due to carbon dioxide.
Will this warming necessarily lead to more climate extremes—floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, sea level rise, etc.? I can write in great detail showing the data and explaining why these events are not increasing in frequency or intensity and why, under a warmer world, the physics indicate that they should not. Changing land use and increased demand for water are more significant than carbon dioxide in changing the impact of climate on our lives. Coverage of extreme weather gives the false impression that violent weather is becoming more frequent and intense when the data say otherwise.
Is a warmer climate and more carbon dioxide a net benefit to life on the planet?The answer to this question is a resounding “YES.” More people die from exposure to cold than heat. A longer growing season is more beneficial to feeding a growing population. Further, since carbon dioxide is plant food, under higher carbon dioxide concentrations, virtually all plants grow faster and are more efficient in using water. So, what is the climatic benefit of spending trillions of dollars and fundamentally changing our economy and way of life? The Green New Deal is not about ‘stabilizing’ the Earth’s climate. Carbon dioxide is a small player in climate change.
The United Nations has become the modern-day Robin Hood—creating wealth redistribution on a global scale. Industrialization has made developed nations ‘rich’, and by using fossil fuels, they are supposedly destroying our climate, for which the developed world must pay. Rich nations, therefore, must give much of their wealth to the poorer nations. Climate change has become the cause célèbre to move nations to action.
The Green New Deal is not about stopping climate change. Climate always changes and always will. The United States has cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by about 13% since 2005 to virtually no effect on the Earth’s climate. The net effect of reducing the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050 would be negligible.
Even reduction by 100% would have little effect on the climate, but the policies proposed by the Green New Deal would make Karl Marx proud. But realize this; any draconian changes such as these would necessarily change our fundamental way of life. And that, not addressing the ills of climate change, is what the Green New Deal is all about.
David R. Legates, Ph.D., is Professor of Geography and Climatology, former Director of the Center for Climatic Research, University of Delaware, and a Senior Fellow ofThe Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.
Marie vogus says
That helps me understand exactly what hes talking about. I’m not very educated but I read alot to help me understand this is a good equal understanding. Of what global warming really is. And carbon dioxide Thank you!