American climate change scepticism growing too

A couple of weeks ago I noted modest increases in Australian climate change scepticism and much larger increases in policy action scepticism over the last couple of years.

Now a Pew survey shows that in the United States the sceptics are gaining ground. Since April 2008, the proportion of respondents believing that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming has dropped 14 percentage points to 57% (there is no same-wording question in Australia, but similar questions find over 80% belief in global warming).


Consistent with Tom Switzer’s observation that climate change gets much less media coverage there than here, most Americans haven’t heard anything about their proposed cap and trade system. However 50% favour carbon emissions limits.

I don’t know enough about US politics to say why opinion might be shifting, though Tom is presumably right that with so many other big issues in the US climate change has had a lower priority than here. But that would explain ignorance of or opposition to emissions reduction policies rather than increased scepticism about whether global warming is real or not.

14 Responses to “American climate change scepticism growing too

  • 1
    October 26th, 2009 19:30

    I know, I know, we are supposed to pretend there is some sort of debate; unfortunately all the hot air is going to change nature. The ice is going to keep on melting; and then what?

  • 2
    October 26th, 2009 20:20

    Perhaps climate change is really something people worry about in boom times. I don’t believe there’s really much difference in terms of what people are exposed to in US news to here. Perhaps a deep recession changes priorities.

  • 3
    October 26th, 2009 21:43

    “Perhaps a deep recession changes priorities”

    Good grief, I agree with JC.

    Look what happened to Ireland’s verdict on the EU constitution – you can afford to be aloof when things are going well. The climate change thing asks people to take on something big, new, threatening, probably expensive and with an impact sometime down the track. When things are bad people want the bad stuff around them fixed first.

  • 4
    Tim Andrews
    October 27th, 2009 00:49

    I can’t agree with Tom Switzer re media coverage; sure it might be overshadowed by health at the moment, but for most of the first 6 months of the year there really was media saturation on it in the US (or so I observed at least).
    If anything, I would argue that opinion is shifting precisely because the Republicans have been so aggressive in pursuing this issue, highlighting the gaps in the science, and the cost of the proposed solution.

  • 5
    October 27th, 2009 08:50

    When are they going to start polling on the existence or not of the Higgs Boson? Such an important question and we have no polling data!

  • 6
    John Humphreys
    October 27th, 2009 14:26

    The greens over-played the fear card, and now it’s coming back to haunt them. Mainstream scientists warned us of a problem… but some people (not most mainstream scientists) played up the fear, either actively encouraging or happily allowing a warped over-alarmist sense of doom & catastrophe.

    But people can only hold the rage for so long before they realise the sky isn’t falling… and when that happens, some will (wrongly) assume that the entire AGW issue is non-existent. That’s the problem with over-selling. Once you are caught exaggerating, people stop believing you, even if you’re telling the truth. The greens are starting to pay the price for their OTT rhetoric and fear-mongering. This issue could harm green credibility for years.

  • 7
    October 27th, 2009 15:08

    Concern about AGW will ebb and flow for a variety of reasons. America is currently in the grip of a terrible recession, whereas so Australia has narrowly escaped a technical recession. I think that largely explains why concerns about AGW have held here and but fallen there.

    Another main factor shaping opinion is people’s actual experience of their environment. Here in the Castlemaine area of North-Central Victoria we are in our 13th consecutive year of drought and significantly above average temperatures. Consequently concern about AGW is very high, so high that the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group has over 2,000 members, which is pretty amazing for a town of 8,000 people.

  • 8
    Pedro X
    October 27th, 2009 15:27

    melaleuca has a very good point. It’s also worth noting that the US hurricane season has been very mild this year and it’s colder than usual. An unusual number of cold temperature records have been set. This on top of 2 wars, a serious economic downturn and a very vigorous health care debate has to push this issue aside.

    Many of the climatologists are also activists. The scientist who kicked of AGW concern, Jim Hansen, is probably the most respected scientist and is also very active as an activist.

  • 9
    Richard H. Serlin
    October 27th, 2009 16:20

    Here is another indication of the cost of freak shows.

  • 10
    derrida derider
    October 30th, 2009 14:52

    That’s unmitigated rubbish, John Humphreys. I agree that on some issues greenies have overplayed their hand, but all the evidence flowing in in the last few years is that global warming and its effects are likely to be worse, not better, than the greens were claiming two decades ago. And the economic cost of avoiding the worst of it is much less than they believed.

    But then this all part of the usual scapegoating cycle:

    (1) “It’s not going to happen – you’re making it up”

    (2) “Its happening, but there’s nothing we can/should do about it” (note that the corporate sector has clearly shifted from (1) to this position in the last decade)

    (3) “Why wasn’t I warned? It’s all your fault this happened”.

    “Still rule those minds on earth
    At whom sage Milton’s wormwood words were hurled:
    ‘Truth like a bastard comes into the world
    Never without ill-fame to him who gives her birth’?”

  • 11
    October 31st, 2009 14:59

    True, DD. For instance the cost of ocean acidification also needs to be added to the cost of AGW. Libertarians invariably, and dishonestly, choose to ignore this cost. See here and follow the links.

    Why do libertarians hate science?

  • 12
    October 31st, 2009 15:26

    Summary of the 2008 Symposium on OA here.

    No doubt Pat Michaels says “oh noes its all rong”. Chuckle.

  • 13
    November 1st, 2009 12:13

    Libertarians invariably, and dishonestly, choose to ignore this cost.

    Ah no Mel. It’s the rate of change that’s questioned and the science on the rate of change is most certainly not settled. The PH question suggests it could be a multi century problem if we continue on the present course of emissions and I would very much doubt that in 50 years we will still be running coal fired plants.

    So Libertarians are not being dishonest at all.

  • 14
    TerjeP (say tay-a)
    November 1st, 2009 21:18

    Why do libertarians hate science?

    We don’t. We hate big government initiatives.