Coinciding with the release of a Climate Watch Facebook survey that explores attitudes toward climate change, a new national poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press shows that the percentage of people who believe that climate change is a reality has decreased significantly in the past year. Last year, 71% nationwide believed the Earth was warming, regardless of the cause. This year the number is 57%.
Yesterday, Andrew Kohut, who directs the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, and Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of the Yale Project on Climate Change joined Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation to discuss changing attitudes about climate change. (You can listen to the 30-minute segment or read the transcript here.)
Kohut said that the economy most likely plays a large role in the drop. The number of respondents who assigned a top priority to protecting the environment dropped from 56% to 41% in this year’s study, while the proportion who chose dealing with the economy rose to 85%. That squares with another part of the survey, in which fewer people said they were willing to protect the environment if it meant slowing economic growth or higher energy prices.
“I think what happens,” said Kohut on yesterday’s program, “is if you’re giving [the environment] a low priority, people will sometimes develop a rationale for that low priority. So you have more people saying, ‘Well, maybe it’s not all that serious’…”
Kohut also pointed out that the cool summer experienced by much of the country this year could have played a role in the apparent flagging acceptance of climate change.
The Pew report, released last week, shows a dramatic partisan split in attitudes toward climate change. Just thirty-two percent of conservative Republicans believe there is solid evidence for global warming, compared with 83% of liberal Democrats, according to Pew.
Leiserowitz discussed his research into attitudes about climate change, which was done in collaboration with the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
“This research really came from the recognition that Americans don’t speak with a single voice about climate change,” said Leiserowitz. “And what we found, in fact, is that there are six different Americas within America on this particular issue.” National surveys of attitudes toward climate change often yield very different results from polls in California, where there has been greater acceptance of the warming concept in general, as well as the role of human activity in it.
The original Yale-George Mason study, called “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” divides survey-takers into six psychographic groups: Alarmed (18%), Concerned (33%), Cautious (19%), Disengaged (12%), Doubtful (11%), and Dismissive (7%).
Climate Watch teamed up with Leiserowitz and his colleague Ed Maibach from GMU, to create an online version of this survey, called “A Matter of Degree.” You can take the survey on KQED’s website or on Facebook. Both versions allow you to compare your results to those of the original study as well as all online survey-takers. With the Facebook version you can also compare your results with your Facebook “friends” who have already taken the survey and can invite new friends to take the survey. The Facebook application also features a discussion area where respondents can share thoughts about the climate change and the survey itself, and there are links to learn more about each profile “type”.
What’s your climate profile? Take the survey and find out.