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Tilting at Windmills

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October 23, 2009

PUBLIC CONCERN OVER GLOBAL WARMING FADES.... American attitudes about the climate crisis are changing, and not for the better.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, found a sharp decline over the past year in the portion of Americans who see solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. According to the survey, conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, fewer respondents also see global warming as a very serious problem; 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.

The survey also points to a decline in the proportion of Americans who say global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity. Just 36% say that currently, down from 47% last year.

A majority of Americans still support establishing emissions standards to address global warming, though the majority of the country haven't even heard the phrase "cap and trade."

But it's the decline in those who believe the evidence that's most distressing. What's driving the shift?

Mara Gay has a good summary of competing explanations, but I think there are two main angles to keep an eye on.

The first has to do with partisanship. Matt Yglesias noted, "The header Pew put on the graphic notes that the decline is "across party lines." But you should look at the magnitudes -- the Republican line has fallen way further, and from a lower base, than the Democratic line. This is probably a rationalizing voter example where increased salience of the issue is bringing more Republicans into line with the beliefs espoused by their party's leaders."

Agreed. As recently as 2007. 62% of self-identified Republicans saw evidence of global warming. Two years later, that number has dropped to 35%. The more GOP leaders characterize climate change as an ideological/partisan issue -- it's only something liberal eggheads with their annoying "data" and "evidence" care about -- the more the rank and file will agree. And with a certain cable news network toeing the Republican Party line, telling GOP partisans not to believe the science, it's not too hard to understand the trend.

I'd just add, though, that some of the drop off may be the result of the issue fading from public attention. This year, much of the discourse has been focused on the economy, health care, and the wars. There's been a debate on energy policy, but it's struggled for attention.

Time will tell, of course, but if there's a renewed push from policymakers to take this seriously, and the debate in the Senate on cap and trade intensifies, the poll numbers should improve as understand grows. Indeed, even with the shift in the wrong direction, the same data pointed to a public desire for action on the issue.

Americans, in other words, still want policymakers to act, even if there's unnecessary skepticism about the climate trends.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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Comments

Well of COURSE, it was cold out yesterday!

Posted by: Stefan Jones on October 23, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

The cool summer and fall experienced over large parts of the country didn't help either. If only people understood the difference between weather and climate.

Posted by: KTinOhio on October 23, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

What KT said -- the unseasonably cold year much of the East has had is behind a huge part of this. Human beings are short-sighted.

Posted by: Go, Sestak! on October 23, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I agree. A few years ago, even Pat Robertson was "converted"... but for all the wrong reasons: because it was hot that summer.

Posted by: JTK on October 23, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

It also doesn't help the Obama and Congressional Democrats are treating global warming as something that can be solved with a little tweaking rather than as a looming crisis.

Even if the most robust version of "cap and trade" passes, all it will do is slow the increase in greenhouse gases. We're not actually going to do anything real until it's too late. By the time the country recognizes that we need to take this seriously all we'll be able to do is buy a solar array from China to power our seaside house in Denver.


Posted by: SteveT on October 23, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

September 2009 tied with 2005 for the warmest September globally since 1891

http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/tcc/tcc/news/press_20091009.pdf

Posted by: pking on October 23, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

If the majority of Republicans do not acknowledge Darwin, why should be be surprising that they do not acknowledge the laws of physics?

Posted by: bob h on October 23, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Chilly today, hot tomale...

Posted by: stevio on October 23, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how people in Australia would respond to those same questions.


I can understand that the fair weather in much of the U.S. combined with pressing domestic problems is causing a slip in the "is global warming serious" question. What floors me, is the 36% that don't think global warming is connected to human activity. 35% don't think its serious and 36% don't believe in a human caused link? And while 36% don't see humans as causing the problem 56% believe the U.S. should join other countries in cutting emissions? WTF? That tells me most people are drinking some serious kool-aid.

Posted by: oh my on October 23, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Global warming will come and go as an issue for the average American. That is to be expected given the time frames involved. What is important is that policy makers recognize it's looming importance and act accordingly. As far as public policy is concerned, tackling our energy situation in a responsible way will go a long way to slowing the problem, and it will have the positive benefit of putting people to work.

By the way, as far as the American people are concerned, it is still the economy stupid.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 23, 2009 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

The 'problem' began the first time some genius decided to call it "global warming" rather than "climate change".

Rising sea levels-some South Pacific nations are basically underwater- have no obvious link to temperature; ditto increased fresh water entering the North Atlantic, and upsetting the conveyor belt that drives the Gulf Stream.

And then there's the Pocket Book Issue: In this time of downsizing/belt tightening/outsourcing the last thing the public wants is another tax. To them the mantra "drill baby, drill!" seems an easier and less painful solution.

Posted by: DAY on October 23, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

And another thing: Polling the American People on anything is a waste of time. Why? Because they are largely ignorant, illiterate, and uncaring.

Fact: more Americans believe in UFOs than the theory of Evolution. . .

Posted by: DAY on October 23, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Ha! Ha! Ha!

For all of you sceptics who believed that our lies are not convincing americans, this adds to the proof that you are wrong.

We lie.
We know that we lie.
Our lies are not refuted by our corporate media.
Our lies work.

Our corporate media are great at supporting our corporate interests and it is in our corporate interests to pretend that global warming is a fantasy dreamed up by liberals intent upon destroying the american dream.
We will continue to lie.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on October 23, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

I'd just add, though, that some of the drop off may be the result of the issue fading from public attention. This year, much of the discourse has been focused on the economy, health care, and the wars. There's been a debate on energy policy, but it's struggled for attention.

The debates regarding War, Economy and especially Energy Police are EXACTLY detailed action movement debates about GW. When these, and a few other items (IE. forest practices, fishing & mining) are dealt with properly, the final GW debate will just be a wrapper for the success of these movements.

Ha Ha, good luck with that folks.
Just ain't gonna happen.
GW is much more likely to cause MORE WARS,,,
More war is supported by more mining, more logging, & a raft of more bad practices which will degrade the planet even more.

.

Posted by: cwolf on October 23, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

September 2009 tied with 2005 for the warmest September globally since 1891

http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/tcc/tcc/news/press_20091009.pdf

You do realize all that does is make people say "Oh, it was hotter in 1891? How can the earth be WARMING then?"

Posted by: MNPundit on October 23, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Just a thought because I have yet to read the study but....
2 years ago, more people identified as Republicans. What is it now, like 20% percent? Of course the percentage of Republicans who don't believe in Global Warming would go up. Part of the 62% that believed two years ago more-than-likely doesn't consider themselves a Republican anymore.

Posted by: Jason on October 23, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

There is also the problem that the main "science" behind these hysterical claims about climate catastrophe is a computer program written by a guy who works for NASA who will not release the data on which he bases his model. In other words, it's pseudo-science without any scientific method to it. Plus, CO2 is what plants breathe in and animals breathe out. It's not like the carbon people are upset about it soot or some other real pollutant. How can it be green to deprive plants of what they breathe?

Posted by: Blago Bloggo on October 23, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Part of the problem is that Americans just don't get much news about what is happening. Strategic thinkers are already trying to plan for the possibility of major population shifts, famines, droughts and increased property damage caused by climate change as they should, but the average citizen rarely sees or hears about:

Cyprus, where a 15% drop in rainfall, coupled with over-development of the island and a hammering of underground water supplies is creating a major water shortage....

Ethiopia where a protracted drought and failed harvests is generating starvation, exodus and major problems for millions.

The Pacific, where small island nations are already seeing signs of increased wave damage in major storms as water levels creep very slowly but steadily upward.

The Arctic, where the seas could become totally ice free by mid-century according to some scientists....

The Himalayas where rapidly diminishing glaciers are leading to a loss of summer water supplies for farmers in foothills and plains fed by mountain snowpack. Battles over water supplies could fuel new regional conflicts.

Part of the reason why Americans don't get this news is that we have never gotten much overseas news in our daily diet except for wars and disasters and today, news budgets for foreign reports and bureaus are being savaged.

What they do hear is folks like Rep. US Senator OK James Inhofe because he has a deep scientific knowledge of what is happening...which is to say there is no problem.

What they also hear is the denials from pseudo scientists, paid for by oil companies, coal companies and major industrial polluters, who flood the discourse with blatant crap which has the effect of creating a "he said, she said" sense in the public mind when thousands of eminent scientists try to present scientific evidence of what is really happening.

Inhofe's only defense is that as a Senator from Oklahoma, he is deep inland. It does not stop him from being a major threat to our national security....a weapon of mass stupidity.

Posted by: dweb on October 23, 2009 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

And another thing: Polling the American People on anything is a waste of time.-Posted by: DAY on October 23, 2009

This is true, and these recent poll results shouldn't be surprising.

Consider that a few years ago we had heat waves across much of the U.S., Two Category 5 hurricanes striking the gulf coast in one year, Al Gore's documentary hitting the shelves, minimum sea ice records were being set and attracting news coverage, and rapidly rising fuel prices that were blamed on a massive rise in global demand.

Over the past year and a half, much of the Midwest has had flooding and both the Midwet and East have been cooler than average. Fuel prices have dropped, no serious hurricanes have hit the U.S., and the Republican propaganda machine has been humming away.

Most Americans are just too consumed in the day-to-day to care much about the big picture. If it's not in their face, it's off their radar.

Posted by: about time on October 23, 2009 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Here is one scientist's view of the state of the evidence: here.

A previous prediction by James Hansen: here.

Global warming could be occurring as a consequence of CO2 buildup, but people who "believe" it need to come to terms with some serious limitations: (1) a history of disconfirmed predictions (many predicting disaster, as happened right after Hurricane Katrina); (2) the evidence against natural causes (other than CO2 accumulation) is actually quite slim and spotty, and seriously biased in the selection; (3) contradictory evidence concerning some hypothesized mechanisms, such as the effect of CO2 on plant growth rate, and the net effects of accumulating H2O in the several layers of the atmosphere.

People who predicted warming from 1999 to 2009 are now predicting that warming will resume some time in the next 1 to 3 decades. They could be right, or else other things that they did not predict could continue to disprove their predictions. Why believe a group of people whose predictions heretofore have always been wrong?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on October 23, 2009 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

I have no earthly idea why so many are so invested in convincing people that global warming is real and caused by people if a sizable majority are in favor of capping greenhouse emissions. Maybe you all should just be satisfied that a lot of people have considerable doubts about the "science" but neverthless believe that it is a good idea not to spew so much crap into the atmosphere. If your concern is that they will not stick to their position if it starts to hurt their pocketbooks or lifestyle, I would agree that is a legitimate concern except that if it hurts too much you are not going to get support for capping emmisions even if 100% of the public beleives global warming is real and caused soley by people. That is because the time frames are wrong and as noted possible early impacts of a warmer planet are not having much impact on most of the US. On the other hand I could make a pretty convincing case that everyone screaming that the sky is falling is also using too short a time frame. Unless people end up turning the planet into Venus, the most likely result of the most dire predictions of the global warming alarmists is that we will make the planet uninhabitable for most or all human beings. At that point the emissions debate becomes moot. Like a lot of things with this marvelous rock, when things get out of whack, it self corrects. It is only hubris which causes folks like you and Al Gore to think that you control nature rather than vice versa. 100 million years from now, I think thne odds are pretty good that the planet will be exactly the same whether cap and trade legislation is passed or not. Of course, I will not be around to collect that bet or pay it off and neither will any of the people you are trying to influence.

Posted by: Terry on October 23, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Why believe a group of people whose predictions heretofore have always been wrong?

We don't. So why do you keep making predictions?

Climatologists predictions haven't "always been wrong." The science of global climate change deals with a web of complex systems, each difficult to predict on its own merits. While some incredibly specific time-based predictions (e.g. year specific) may not have come to pass, the general trend lines are all still in support of the science: temperature, ice pack, ocean temperatures and acidity, regional drought, et al.

Many people on this blog and elsewhere began predicting the collapse of the housing market in 2005. In 2007 as trend lines became very clear housing market collapse "deniers" were still in abundance but ultimately those predicting collapse were proven correct.

What this shows is that attempting to refute a theorist on the grounds that a prediction of theirs didn't happen exactly when he said it would is rhetorical obfuscation, not scientific analysis.

Posted by: trex on October 23, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Just look out the window. Here in SE Connecticut, I use a rule of thumb that the trees would green about May 15th and leaves be done falling about October 15th. Here it is the 23rd, and the leaves are finally turning, even in Hartford where it goes earlier. I haven't had to rake yet. That's over about 20 years since I've been using that rule.

When I was a kid in school, late 60's, September on the calendar was decorated with autumn leaves.

Posted by: steverino on October 23, 2009 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Americans, in other words, still want policymakers to act, even if there's unnecessary skepticism about the climate trends.

Even I, an AGW skeptic, want policy-makers to act: more fuel and energy development, and more reforestation.

trex: What this shows is that attempting to refute a theorist on the grounds that a prediction of theirs didn't happen exactly when he said it would is rhetorical obfuscation, not scientific analysis.

IPCC and James Hansen predicted monotonic warming from 1999 to 2009. Global temperature now is below the lower limit of their uncertainty ranges from that time. At least 1 of the IPCC scientific panel has admitted that the completely unanticipated cooling trend of now will persist for an unknown time, perhaps decades. It's not that earlier predictions have been slightly inaccurate in detail, but that they have been grossly inaccurate overall. The complexity of the models is among their weaknesses: there are so many parameters that have to be estimated from short time series that all the parameter estimates are unstable (i.e., likely to be greatly revised with a little more data.)

There were models that, in 1999, predicted cooling through 2009. Since their predictions came true, they should be getting a little more attention from the scientific community. Even those that predict a resumption of warming predict much less warming over the rest of the 21st century than the IPCC predictions. So what should you bet on, the models that were wrong or the models that were right? Should you hedge your bets?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on October 23, 2009 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

The tide/polls come in, the tide/polls go out, but over the long term the water/public opinion keeps rising.

BTW- MathewRMarler, what are you doing on this blog?! Go back to Rush, he misses you.

Posted by: robert on October 23, 2009 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Thankfully facts do not depend on public opinion.

Posted by: JWK on October 23, 2009 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

If you look into the science behind climatology you will realize that climatology is really a pseudo-science. Without experimental verification climatology cannot be called a science. You cannot verify a theory with computer models. Climatology and economics have a lot in common in this regardthey both attempt to forecast the future of a chaotic system and have had little or no success to date. They both are convinced that government action can remove the natural cycles in a complex, unstable process.

Posted by: Peter Staats on October 26, 2009 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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