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News & Perspective from the Center for Environmental Journalism
This item was posted on October 22, 2009, and it was categorized as Climate Change, Climate change policy, Global Warming.
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pew-global-warming-pollThe percentage of Americans who believe there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming dropped sharply during the past year, according to a poll released today by the Pew Research Center For the People and the Press.

At the same time, there has been an almost equal decline in the percentage of Americans who say that the Earth is warming because of human emissions of greenhouse gases. In April 2008, 47 percent held that view. Today it’s down to 36 percent.

Given these numbers, it should come as no surprise that fewer Americans today see global warming as a very serious problem, with only 35 percent expressing that view now, compared to 44 percent in April of 2008.

The beliefs reflected in the new Pew Research Center poll stand in stark contrast to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, which found the following (see p. 30):

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”

The IPCC synthesis report also concluded (see p. 39) that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th Century has very likely been due to the greenhouse gases humans have added to the atmosphere.

In the Pew poll, 85 percent of people said they had heard only a little or nothing at all about the cap-and-trade policy now being considered in Congress to tackle global warming. And in what may be an ominous development for Democrats pushing cap-and-trade plans in Congress, it seems that public support for the policy seems to be built on extremely shaky ground. That support is actually correlated with lack of knowledge about the policy’s details, with more than 50 percent of those who know little or nothing about them saying they favor a cap on emissions of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, the small minority of people who have heard a lot about capping emissions actually oppose the policy by a two-to-one margin.

This can mean a number of things. One possibility is that those most inclined to dislike government action on global warming are the ones most likely to have sought out details about cap-and-trade. Another is simply that the more Americans know about the policy, the less they like it.

I’m wondering what role media have played in these trends. Science and environmental reporters have been laid off in droves at American news organizations. As far as I know, there is not a single full-time reporter or producer dedicated to these topics in all of American broadcast and cable news. At the same time, I don’t think we can deny the influence of hyper-partisan talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck, and the polarization of view that they help strengthen. Just a few days ago, Limbaugh told millions of listeners to his radio program that Andrew Revkin, one of America’s best environmental journalists, was the equivalent of a “jihadist,” and then he exhorted the New York Times journalist to “go kill yourself.”

Whatever the cause of these new polling numbers, they should make for a really interesting dynamic at the Copenhagen climate talks in December . . .

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This thing has 4 Comments

  1. L. Carey
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    “Whatever the cause of these new polling numbers, they should make for a really interesting dynamic at the Copenhagen climate talks in December . . .”

    One suspects that the only “interesting dynamic” that these poll numbers will produce in Copenhagen is to convince the other delegates to the conference that Americans in general (a) are more interested in news regarding celebrity mating habits than in anything regarding science and (b) have the attention span of a bunch of two-year olds.

  2. David44
    Posted October 25, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Mr. Yulsman – It is disconcerting to see you do such a good job of reporting on the Pew survey and the possible meaning to be found in its results, only to end with the implication that those who find global warming alarmism unconvincing are acolytes of Fox and talk radio buffoons. I for one am not. I’m a biological scientist with training in statistics, a flaming Darwinist, and politically liberal on many other issues. I have looked closely at the science behind the alarmism over the last two years, and find it not only wanting, but is some cases apparently fraudulent. Yes, there is some basis for concern about future levels of greenhouse gasses, but the claims of current adverse environmental effects and dire predictions for the future from the alarmist movement (it is nothing less)are unsupported by noncontroversial evidence.

    If you would like to do something interesting and truely useful as an environmental journalist, look into how the global warming/climate change Cause is redirecting attention from the very real environmental degradation all over the world, e.g., ocean pollution, over-fishing, habitat destruction, land and water use issues, etc.

    Imagine how much land and ocean territory could be set aside (and policed) as sanctuaries for even half of all the $$ being poured into the pseudo-problem of CO2 emissions which even if doubled or quadrupled would still make up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere.

    Then look at how much damage is going to occur to environmental progress and public confidence in scientists when the alarmists are finally exposed for what they are: self-interested charlatans.

  3. Posted October 25, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    David: Thank you for taking the time to comment here. I appreciate it.

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that I was implying that anyone who doubts that climate change will be as severe as many scientists suggest are “buffoons” or “acolytes of Fox and talk radio buffoons.” Certainly, some people do fall into this category (as the comments on my original Rush Limbaugh post so graphically demonstrate). But many other people do not.

    So I did not mean to imply a black and white situation here, but if you find that I did, please accept my apologies. I know that many activist bloggers push a good versus evil, us versus them, frame on this issue. I do not, because it is a gross oversimplification of a very complex situation. More often than not, I try to push back against oversimplification. (To see where I’m coming from, check out my posts taking Joe Romm to task, including one defending Freeman Dyson, who holds beliefs much like your own.)

    That being said, do you deny the influence of people like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and their equivalents on the left? My point was that these blowhards (better than “buffoons” — more precise) have helped polarize discussion to the point that it seems almost impossible to accomplish anything constructive.

    My goal here is to do the opposite: to encourage discussion by people with different views, because I suspect there is much we can agree on. For example, the need to do much more to develop alternative energy sources for a host of reasons other than climate change (although I happen to believe climate change is a very compelling reason also to do so). Unfortunately, those of us who try to be reasonable and remain open to discussion are branded as “denier-eqs” (denier equivalents) by one side, and the equivalent of “jihadists” and “suicide bombers” by the other. (By comparison, “alarmists” is tame…)

    This is what I was arguing, not that you are a dupe of El Rushbo.

  4. David44
    Posted October 25, 2009 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your reply Tom. No, I do not deny that Fox and talk radio – can we agree on blowhard-buffoon as a descriptor? – have an influence on those susceptible to emotional rather than rational argument. If I haven’t yet made it clear, I abhor them. But I also abhor the echo chamber of mainstream journalism including environmental journalists who do little more than uncritically parrot the claims and dogma of Hansen, Mann, Schmidt and other self-interested climate scientists (not to mention Mr. Gore)who have sold their souls to media attention, adoration by their constituencies, or the next federal grant? This was why I found your original post so promising until the end where the unstated implication is that the public could only be having a hard time swallowing AGW alarmism because they have been indoctrinated by the likes of Rush, et. al. It couldn’t possibly be because they are intelligent and have actually explored the justification and found the outrageous claims untenable or illogical. There always seems to be an irresistible impulse for journalists who write a piece containing something contrary to the AGW paradigm to pull their punches at the end by including some apologetic statement denigrating what they have just said so as not to offend their friends in “the movement”. It’s tiresome.

    So, do you deny that there are real and immediate environmental problems that are receiving less attention and fewer resources because of the distraction of and disgust with global warming hype? Or that public faith in science and sympathy for environmental problems will be damaged if (I rather think, when) the alarmists are exposed as the charlatans I believe them to be?

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  1. Posted October 23, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    [...] Yulsman at the Center for Environmental Journalism’s blog looks at the numbers a bit more closely and doesn’t like what he sees: In the Pew poll, 85 percent of people [...]

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