Americans Understand But Don't Care About Polar Regions

Over the past half-decade the American population’s understanding of the facts about polar regions have increased, sadly, their concern or those same regions have stayed the same.

These are the findings of the first comparative analysis conducted by Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, on science related questions included on the General Social Surveys conducted in 2006 and 2010.

“People’s knowledge of polar regions and issues improved from 2006 to 2010, consistent with hopes that the International Polar Year in 2007 would boost public awareness. Unfortunately, we did not see a companion increase in concern about the environmental changes in these regions, due, in part, to ideological and political divisions,” said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology at UNH and a senior fellow at the Carsey Institute.

Questions included on the surveys concerning the polar regions covered topics such as climate change, melting ice, rising sea levels, and human or ecological impacts from environmental change.

These surveys took place on either side of the International Polar Year in 2007-2008, a scientific initiative to raise the awareness and education of polar science.

The researchers who analysed the survey results found that knowledge about the north and south polar regions showed only a six percent increase between 2006 and 2010. However, concern about climate change in the polar regions was not affected at all, despite the increase in awareness and understanding.

The surveys also included an 11-question “science-literacy” quiz which tested the background knowledge about science of the participant. Sadly, science literacy did not improve over the time, but those with higher science literacy tend to care more about the polar regions and the environmental change taking place. Additionally, those with a higher scientific literacy are more likely to desire the Antarctic be reserved for science rather than opened to commercial development.

The researchers also found that there is an increase in political disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on climate-related questions.

“Among the environment-related issues, all but reserving Antarctica for science show increasing political polarization — and even support for reserv­ing the Antarctic divides along party lines. Polar issues, like many other topics in science, increasingly are viewed by the public through politically tinted glasses,” Hamilton said.

Source: University of New Hampshire
Image Source: SF Brit on Flickr

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