Climate change in the American mind: May 2017

We received the following in an e-mail from the National Center for Science Education and reproduce it with permission in its entirety. It is gratifying to note that a significant majority of those polled agree that global warming is real and a somewhat smaller majority understand that it is the result of human activity. Although few people knew that over 90% of climate scientists accept the reality of human-caused climate change, it appears that a majority knows that most climate scientists accept the reality of human-caused climate change. More importantly, though, a majority of the US population understands that climate change is real and human-caused, and presumably understands the danger of climate change. Things could be worse!

Seven in ten Americans think that global warming is happening, and almost three in five think that, if it is happening, it is mostly owing to human activity, but only about one in eight know that nearly all climate scientists agree that global warming is happening as a result of human activity. Those were among the key findings of Climate Change in the American Mind: May 2017.

Presented with a definition of global warming as “the idea that the world’s average temperature has been increasing over the past 150 years, may be increasing more in the future, and that the world’s climate may change as a result” and asked whether they thought that global warming is happening, 70% of respondents said yes, 13% said no, and 16% indicated that they didn’t know.

Asked about the cause of global warming, on the assumption that it is happening, 58% of respondents said that it is caused mostly by human activities, 30% said that it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment, 6% opted for “neither because global warming isn’t happening,” and 6% volunteered that it was a mix of human activities and natural causes.

Asked to indicate “what percentage of climate scientists think that human-caused global warming is happening,” only 13% selected a value between 91% and 100% – the correct range, as repeated independent studies have demonstrated. The mean of the values selected by the respondents was 67%; the median was 73%.

In a question used only since 2016, respondents were presented with “Schools should teach our children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming”: 78% agreed strongly (39%) or somewhat (39%), while only 10% somewhat disagreed and only 11% strongly disagreed.

The study was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. The surveys were administered in a web-based environment from May 18 to June 6, 2017, using an on-line research panel of 1266 American adults.

According to the report, the sample “includes a representative cross-section of American adults – irrespective of whether they have Internet access, use only a cell phone, etc. Key demographic variables were weighted, post survey, to match US Census Bureau norms.” The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3% at the 95% confidence level.

You may find NCSE’s collection of polls and surveys on climate change here.