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Pew survey finds decline in public’s belief that global warming is real

Just before Congress began tackling climate change legislation this week, the Pew Research Center released a new survey showing a sharp decline in public’s belief that global warming is real.

Two years ago, 77 percent of Americans who were polled said there was solid evidence of global warming. Last year 71 percent said so. Now it is 57 percent.

Pew noted that its poll was released a day after leaders of 18 prominent scientific organizations signed a “Dear Senator” letter reaffirming what they see as scientific consensus on climate change. (One of the 18 signers is University of Minnesota Prof. Douglas Arnold, who is president this year of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.)

Why are the public and the scientists moving in opposite directions on this issue?

I don’t know. And Pew researchers said they were puzzled too.

One hint, though, comes from a different study Pew released last month. This one was a News IQ quiz.

Here’s one of the 12 multiple choice questions on the quiz: Does the so-called “cap and trade” legislation being discussed in Congress deal with 1) banking reform, 2) energy and environment, 3) health care or 4) unemployment?

The overall news IQ was pretty low. The answers to this question, though, were near the lowest of the low. Only 23 percent of those who took the quiz chose the correct answer, which is No. 2, energy and the environment.

To be sure, reasonable people could disagree with cap-and-trade proposals circulating on Capitol Hill. That question wasn’t asked. Busy people also could be forgiven for not knowing the considerable intricacies of those proposals. But not knowing so much as their general gist?  

Something other than scientific argument and news coverage of the public policy issues is turning public opinion to quite a remarkable degree.

Any clues anyone?

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/04/2009 - 04:34 pm.

    Only one clue I can think of: propaganda from the oil, coal and gas members of the energy industry. Probably discussed at Dick Cheney’s secret meetings in 2001 with Enron and other energy biggies at which the companies told our Richard what they wanted U.S. energy policy to be.

    Drill. Dig. Blast mountaintops. Sequester. Keep building coal-fired plants and nuclear power plants. Allocate only a token amount to renewables. Take care of our corporate friends. All enshrined in the Energy Act of 2005, but now being addressed at last.

    All these profitable enterprises would be reduced and perhaps someday eliminated by developing renewables to take their places.

  2. Submitted by Leonard Tachner on 11/04/2009 - 05:03 pm.

    I believe that the American public is a lot wiser than most journalists and politicians give them credit for. They understand that a temperature rise of about 1 degree F over the past century or so is just not that much to get excited about. They understand that the amount of CO2 emitted by mankind (about 15 parts per million) is just not worth trillions of dollars and millions of jobs. They just don’t believe that sea-level rise of a few millimeters per year is going to destroy Miami and New York in the next hundred years. They just know from their own common sense that this Earth has been a lot warmer and a lot colder and will continue that way forever regardless of what Al Gore and his cronies tell us to do. The people of this country are struggling enough with the economy already and they just won’t accept the idea that they’ve got to agree to spend a whole lot more of their incomes on higher costs for electricity, gasolene, natural gas and just about everything else you can think of because a bunch of liberal radicals want us to believe that we’re headed for catastrophe because it might get another degree warmer in the next hundred years. There’s your clue!

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/04/2009 - 07:05 pm.

    What can you say to those that listen to their local chamber of commerce that says that the price of energy is going to determine their future and not how competitive they are in other regards?

    The trouble with climate science is that it is complex. But I’m not sure that the scientific complexity is the key issue. I think what here in the United States has happened, is that the issue has been divided along party lines. The republicans hark back to an earlier America where the car reigns supreme and the resources are there to be burned and we had lots of them and so forth.

    The democrats have a more nuanced view of the world and it’s no accident they produced Al Gore and the republicans produced George Bush.

    But when you get to that point of political commitment, facts don’t really matter so much anymore. People have their views determined by ideology and that’s just a tragedy that its happened in this country. It hasn’t happened elsewhere. In Britain the conservatives, the Tories are probably more green than Labor, which is the socialist party.

    Conservatism doesn’t have to go with the rejection of environmental values. But unfortunately in this country the republicans have seemed to taken that view. I am always hopeful that conservative voices will rediscover a love of country and will take on a environmental ethic along with the other aspects of the conservative ideology. Unfortunately there is not much sign of that at the moment.

  4. Submitted by John Roach on 11/04/2009 - 07:38 pm.

    The propensity of the US media to “report the controversy” and generate “horserace commentary” has undoubtably contributed a great deal to the American public’s ideas about global climate change.

    In spite of confusion among the public, the scientific community is not confused at all. The evidence for continued and extremely rapid (in a climatic context) warming is becoming clearer every day, and the overwhelming majority of climate scientists acknowledge this.

    The extremely few scientists who do not accept this mounting evidence are given attention that is wildly out proportion to their numbers, and often out of proportion to the quality of their analyses. This is what the US media does.

    In contrast, the population of the EU nations have a much clearer understanding of the weight of evidence. 87 percent believe that global climate change is a serious problem.

  5. Submitted by Brad Arnold on 11/05/2009 - 06:29 am.

    Regardless of your opinion on global warming, check out this new American energy technology that delivers electricity for 1 cent per kilowatt hour (as reported by both CNN and the New York Times):

    Check out above link to a 2 and a half minute youtube video of a CNN report. What are the odds that the independent testimony below is fraudulent (not bloody likely unless you are a paranoid conspiracy theorist)? Here is a silver bullet technology: clean cheap and abundant energy.

    In a joint statement, Dr. K.V. Ramanujachary, Rowan University Meritorious Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr. Amos Mugweru, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and Dr. Peter Jansson P.E., Associate Professor of Engineering said, “In independent tests conducted over the past three months involving 10 solid fuels made by us from commercially-available chemicals, our team of engineering and chemistry professors, staff, and students at Rowan University has independently and consistently generated energy in excesses ranging from 1.2 times to 6.5 times the maximum theoretical heat available through known chemical reactions.”

    Also, check out this article:

    Brad Arnold
    St Louis Park, MN, USA

  6. Submitted by Michael Zalar on 11/05/2009 - 05:15 pm.

    I put it all on the individualism of a still young nation (230 years of independence, 150 years since we had reliable communication across the continent, about 50 years since the last state joined). Ours is a country of immigrants, most coming to build thier own life in thier own way.
    There is a belief that I am as good as anybody, that my opinion is as good as anyone elses. We do not believe or trust anybody else. Unfortunately this includes those who actually need to be trusted – the people who have committed the time and effort of study to a particular problem. The masses say I am as good as them, and I do not trust them, so I will believe what makes me the most comfortable.
    We are a nation of anti-intellectuals.

    A simple volcanic erruption in 1815 caused such a climate change that the following year was called the Year Without a Summer, and hundreds of thousands died.
    Millions of years back, a rise in temperature, perhaps as little as what we can expect in the next hundred years, helped cause the Permian Extinction, where 70% of all species on earth died off.

    But all the individuals who believe themselves as knowledgeable as climate scientists without doing the least bit of research, proclaim that nothing will happen.
    It wont kill me. It may kill my great grandson.

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