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 . . .