More on Climate Change in the American Mind

As promised, the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication today released the second set of their latest survey findings, in a report entitled Climate Change in the American Mind: Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in April 2013.[1]

Here’s their executive summary, reproduced in its entirety:

Nearly two in three Americans (63%) believe global warming is happening. Relatively few – only 16 percent – believe it is not. However, since Fall 2012, the percentage of Americans who believe global warming is real has dropped 7 points to 63%, likely influenced by the relatively cold winter of 2012-13 (compared to the prior year) and an unusually cold March just before the survey was conducted. In March of 2012, after an unusually warm winter, 66 percent of Americans believed global warming was happening; thus, seasonal effects may account for at least some of the change we observe.

• Those who believe global warming is happening are more certain of their convictions than those who do not. Of the 63% of Americans who believe global warming is happening, most say they are “very” (33%) or “extremely sure” (27%). By contrast, of the unconvinced, fewer are very (28%) or extremely sure of their view (18%).

• About half of Americans (49%) believe global warming – if it is happening – is caused mostly by human activities, a decrease of 5 points since Fall 2012, but similar to levels stretching back several years.

• More Americans believe that “most scientists think global warming is happening” than believe there is widespread disagreement among scientists(42% versus 33%, respectively). One in five Americans (20%) continue to feel they “don’t know enough to say” and fewer than one in 20 (4%) believe that “most scientists think global warming is not happening.”

• About half of Americans (51%) say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” about global warming, a 7 percentage-point decline in worry since Fall 2012.

• At least four out of ten Americans say global warming will harm people in their community (45%), their family (44%), or themselves (42%). Though Americans today, compared to Fall 2012, are slightly less likely to perceive these threats of harm, they are much more likely to do so today than they were a year ago.

• Global warming is also perceived as a threat to people in developing countries (55%, down 9 points since September 2012, but similar to March 2012), in other modern industrialized countries (53%, down 4 points since September, but up 4 points since March 2012), and in the United States (52%, down 5 points since September, but up 6 points since March 2012).

• Today, four in ten Americans say people around the world are being harmed right now by climate change (38%), while 34 percent say global warming is currently harming people in the United States.

In an earlier post on the first set of the GMU-Yale survey results (which focused on extreme events), I suggested that the American mindset on this issue created a great opportunity for the National Weather Service and its Weather-Ready Nation program. The reasons were two-fold. (1) Weather-Ready Nation plays into a powerful, pre-existing American concern; and (2), framed properly, it provides ways and means for virtually every American to plug-in, get active, be involved. No one is sidelined.

This latter aspect is particularly important. As the survey results released today suggest, many Americans are somewhat or very worried about global warming, and they think global warming will harm their communities, and their families. Psychologists tell us that when we experience responsibility to act, but lack any authority, we experience stress. This stress is exacerbated when we feel alone, isolated. Americans wake up every morning feeling this toxic combination of accountability- impotence-isolation with respect to a large number of issues: the economy, terrorism, healthcare, and many more. We see signs of the resulting stress everywhere.

But building community resilience to hazards provides outlets for action. Individuals can take measures at home; in the workplace… regardless of their employer or their role at their work; at their children’s schools, and so on. And in each of these cases, they can act in concert. They’ll be working with others. There is no enemy; there’s only a common good.

Thus the survey results released today reinforce last week’s message. This is a challenge that can bring us together, especially if we focus on building resilience to extremes… those we face today, and any changed extremes we may have to contend with tomorrow.



[1] Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., & Howe, P. (2013) Climatechange in the American mind: Americans’ global warming beliefs and attitudes in April, 2013. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

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