Americans Disagree on Why Climate Change Is Occurring

New research from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire shows that many Americans disagree on why climate change is occurring. Additionally, much of what people believe is unduly influenced by the political party that they attach themselves to.

For examples, according to the research conducted by the Carsey Institute, Republicans are more likely to blame natural causes for the current changing climate while Democrats will more often take responsibility for the changes, blaming human activities.

The Carsey Institute added three new questions to their regular surveys, asking respondents how much they understand about the issue of global warming or climate change, whether they think that most scientists agree that climate change is happening now as a result of human activities, and what they believe personally about the topic.

The series of regional surveys conducted in 2010 and early 2011 asked nearly 9,500 people in seven regions throughout the United States about climate change, and received the following key findings;

  • Most people say that they understand either a moderate amount or a great deal about the issue of global warming or climate change.
  • Large majorities agree that climate change is happening now, although they split on whether this is attributed mainly to human or natural causes.
  • Level of understanding about climate change varies considerably by region.
  • Beliefs about climate change are strongly related to political party. Republicans most often believe either that climate is not changing now or that it is changing but from mainly natural causes. Democrats most often believe that the climate is changing now due mainly to human activities.
  • Political polarization is greatest among the Republicans and Democrats who are most confident that they understand this issue. Republicans and Democrats less sure about their understanding also tend to be less far apart in their beliefs.
  • People who express lower confidence also might be more likely to change their views in response to weather.

“Although there remains active discussion among scientists on many details about the pace and effects of climate change, no leading science organization disagrees that human activities are now changing the Earth’s climate. The strong scientific agreement on this point contrasts with the partisan disagreement seen on all of our surveys,” said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow with the Carsey Institute.

“However, most people gather information about climate change not directly from scientists but indirectly, for example through news media, political activists, acquaintances, and other nonscience sources. Their understanding reflects not simply scientific knowledge, but rather the adoption of views promoted by political or opinion leaders they follow. People increasingly choose news sources that match their own views. Moreover, they tend to selectively absorb information even from this biased flow, fitting it into their pre-existing beliefs,” Hamilton said.

“If the scientists are right, evidence of climate change will become more visible and dramatic in the decades ahead. Arctic sea ice, for example, provides one closely watched harbinger of planetary change. In its 2007 report the IPCC projected that late-summer Arctic sea ice could disappear before the end of the 21st century. Since that report was written, steeper-than-expected declines have led to suggestions that summer sea ice might be largely gone by 2030, and some think much sooner,” Hamilton said.

“We will find out in time—either the ice will melt, or it won’t. The Arctic Ocean, along with other aspects of the ocean-atmosphere system, presents an undeniable physical reality that could become more central to the public debate. In the meantime, however, public be­liefs about physical reality remain strikingly politicized,” Hamilton added.

The full report can be found here (PDF).

Source: Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire
Image Source: wumai

2 thoughts on “Americans Disagree on Why Climate Change Is Occurring”

  1. The following question is loaded, I would be tempted to answer 3, even though I believe scientists are still working out whether nature/human activities are primarily responsible, or would reply that they are unsure of the exact ballance of responsiblility.

    “Which of the following two statements do you think is more
    3 Most scientists agree that climate change is
    happening now, caused mainly by human activities.
    2 There is little agreement among scientists whether
    climate change is happening now, caused mainly
    by human activities.”
    1 (unsure–volunteered)

    1. Kenneth, 97-98% of climatologists would say #3 — it is happening and it is primarily (if not solely) caused by humans.

      Even leading overarching scientific communities now say this — the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. and the Royal Society in the UK. they fully support what the climate scientists have shown us through rigorous, lengthy scientific study.

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