Global Warming: Inside the American Psyche
by Bill Chameides | July 18th, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)
The strange and not-so-strange ways Americans split on global warming.
Americans don’t agree on global warming — no surprise there. But how do they disagree? And why?
To answer those questions, the Yale Project of Climate Change Communication has been reporting on attitudes about global warming since 2007. In 2008 researchers began conducting a large national survey that identified six groups of Americans who respond to the issue in distinct ways “along a spectrum of concern and issue engagement” as follows:
Alarmed – those “who are fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it.”
Concerned – those “who are convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged the issue personally.”
Cautious – those “who believe global warming is a problem, they don’t view it as a personal threat and don’t feel a sense of urgency to deal with it.”
Disengaged – those “who haven’t thought much about the issue, don’t know much about it, and are the most likely to say that they could easily change their minds about global warming.”
Doubtful – “evenly split among those who think global warming is happening, those who think it isn’t, and those who don’t know.” Many who fall into this category believe that if the climate is changing, it is caused by natural processes in the environment, believe global warming won’t harm people for many decades to come, if at all, and say that America is already doing enough to respond to the threat.
Dismissive – those “who believe that warming is not happening, is not a threat … and strongly believe it is not a problem that warrants a national response.”
Now referred to as the Six Americas poll, the project’s first four installments were completed in October 2008, January 2010, June 2010 and July 2010. The results of the latest poll from May 2011 are now available.
The percentages of respondents falling into each of the groups have bounced up and down over time. The largest changes between polls occurred between October 2008 and January 2010 (perhaps as fallout from Climategate and/or growing concerns about the economic ramifications of climate legislation in light of the recession) with the dismissive group jumping from 7 to 16 percent, the alarmed group falling from 18 to 10 percent and the cautious group increasing from 19 to 27 percent. Since January 2010, the numbers have trended toward the October 2008 values — but still have a ways to go in some of the categories.
Overall, the percentages for the six groups came in like this in the latest poll:
OK, I guess it’s a bit of a victory for those favoring policies addressing global warming, with more people claiming to be alarmed or concerned (39 percent) than those claiming to be doubtful and dismissive (25 percent). But add the 10 percent disengaged to the dismissive and you get 35 percent happy with the status quo. These numbers are interesting and will no doubt provide fodder for both sides of the debate on where the oh-so-frequently intoned “American people” fall on the question.
But there’s a lot more fascinating information in the May 2011 poll. Here are a few choice ones:
Are You Well Informed About Global Warming?
The Perception About Global Warming
The percentages of each group that said they are very well informed about global warming:
The percentages of each group that said the statement that “most scientists think global warming is happening” come closest to their own view.
Actual percentage of publishing climate scientists who agree that global warming is occurring and human activity is a significant factor, according to Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman of the University of Illinois at Chicago: 97%
Do You Need to Learn More?
The percentages of each group that said they do not need any more information:
Survey conducted April 23-May 21, 2011 with 981 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.filed under: climate change, faculty, global warming, policy, politics
and: Americans, climate, climate science, climate skeptics, climategate, legislation, Six Americas poll, social science, survey, Yale Project of Climate Change Communication