Public Concern About Global Warming is On the Rise Again

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A Majority in the U.S. Believe Global Warming is Happening Already

By Glynn Wilson

Apparently all the recent attention in the media about global warming and climate change is having an effect on public opinion. Public concern about global warming is on the rise again after several years of growing skepticism due to the noise from the political right in the U.S.

According to the latest Gallup poll on the subject, 58 percent of Americans say they worry a great deal or fair amount about global warming. This is up from 51 percent in 2011 but still below the 62 percent to 72 percent levels seen in earlier years.

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Specifically, 33 percent of Americans worry about global warming “a great deal,” while another 25 percent worry “a fair amount” and 20 percent worry “only a little.” Only 23 percent say they don’t worry at all.

Public concern about global warming has waxed and waned over the past two decades, ranging between 50 percent and 72 percent, according to Gallup trend data. The average percentage over time for “worrying a great deal/fair amount” comes in at just under 60 percent, similar to the March 7-10 reading from Gallup’s 2013 Environment poll.

The same poll finds 54 percent of Americans saying the effects of global warming have already begun.

“This also matches the average in Gallup trends on this measure since 1997,” Gallup says in its analysis. “The low points were recorded in 1997 and 2011, when less than half thought global warming’s effects were already manifest. The high point was recorded in 2008, at 61 percent. This year’s percentage represents a slight increase from the lows reached just a couple of years ago.”

Americans continue to be less likely than in the recent past to believe news about global warming is generally exaggerated, with 41 percent saying so this year — down from 48 percent in 2010, the all-time high. The majority of Americans continue to believe news on the subject is either generally correct (24 percent) or underestimates the seriousness of the issue (33 percent).

Belief in Scientist Consensus on Global Warming Back Above 60 percent

Americans this year are also more likely to believe that scientists agree global warming is occurring, mirroring the increase in worry about global warming since 2011. The 62 percent now saying so represents a nearly full return to pre-2010 attitudes.

“Similarly, fewer Americans today espouse global warming skeptics’ view that the long-term increase in the Earth’s average temperature is the result of natural changes in the environment, and not because of human activities,” Gallup reports. “Currently, 57 percent of Americans say global warming is caused by human activities, up from 50 percent in 2010, although still slightly lower than the all-time high of 61 percent.”

Despite Americans’ general belief that global warming is under way and that scientists agree it is occurring, the majority do not believe global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetime, according to the public opinion survey data.

“The 34 percent who say it will matches the historical average since 1997,” Gallup reports. “Thus, there has been no increase over time in the percentage of Americans who expect to be seriously affected.”

Gallup’s Bottom Line

Gallup trends throughout the past decade — and some stretching back to 1989 — have shown generally consistent majority support for the idea that global warming is real, that human activities cause it, and that news reports on it are correct, if not underestimated.

“Americans’ concerns about global warming peaked at points in the late 1980s and the late 1990s, and again between 2006 and 2008, possibly related to strong environmentalist campaigns to raise awareness of the issue at those times — including the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in 2006,” Gallup concludes. “Conversely, concerns receded in 2009 and 2010, particularly among Republicans and conservatives, corresponding with a flurry of publicity about scientists who doubt global warming is caused by human activities, as well as some controversy about global warming research. With all of this dying down somewhat in the last few years, attitudes are returning to previous levels, putting them near the long-term averages.”

In contrast to majority acceptance of global warming as real, Gallup finds Americans less than alarmed. One-third worry “a great deal,” and 34 percent expect it to threaten their way of life. These could be the attitudes that matter most when it comes to Americans’ support for public policies designed to address the issue.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 7-10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,022 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Originally published on August 8, 2013 in The Locust Fork News-Journal

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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