Despite almost 3 in 4 Americans believing in climate change, 87% of them are not aware of the scientific consensus on man-made climate change.
A recent report carried out by researchers from Yale University assessed how Americans feel about climate change -- if it's happening or not, who is causing it, and how certain we are of things. They didn't tell the 1,266 adults in the survey that 97 percent of climate scientists concur that human-caused global warming is happening, and they avoided any piece of information that could sway the subjects on way or another.
Several findings were interesting, some actually encouraging (such as 70% of Americans believing in climate change or 58% reporting that the climate change is man-made), but something really stood out: Americans really aren't up to date with the science.
This is quite troubling since it leaves quite a door open for debate, when in reality, the time for debating whether or not man-made climate change is happening has long passed. Study after study has pitched in, and nowadays we have over 20,000 peer-reviewed studies on the subject. It's a situation which can only be classified as a scientific consensus.
"Public misunderstanding of the scientific consensus – which has been found in each of our surveys since 2008 – has significant consequences," the researchers note in the Yale-GMU report. "Other research has identified public understanding of the scientific consensus as an important 'gateway belief' that influences other important beliefs," the researchers said, including the beliefs that global warming is happening, is human caused, is a serious problem and is solvable.
As we previously reported, it's not just a lack of science literacy that's causing this issue, though that's definitely playing a part too. The US media has launched an all-out attack on climate science, nowadays spearheaded by a White House administration with an unprecedented anti-scientific approach. Ideas launched by President Trump and his administration ('climate change is a Chinese hoax,' 'make coal great again,' 'CO2 doesn't cause warming') have fueled a part of the media already at the mercy of the fossil fuel lobby. That facts and simple truths are so easily discarded by both politicians and media outlets is worrying and can cause a growing rift of misinformation.
Here are some other key findings from the Yale report:
- Americans are also more certain global warming is happening – 46% are “extremely” or Americans are also more certain global warming is happening – 46% are “extremely” or “very” sure it is happening, the highest level since they started doing this survey in 2008.
- 30% of Americans that believe in climate change believe this is happening due to natural causes. It's a startlingly high number, but it's the smallest figure since 2008.
- Some 57% of Americans are "worried" about climate change; 17% are "very worried."
- 59% of Americans believe climate change is affecting the weather in the US.
- 35% of Americans believe Americans are suffering due to climate change right now.
- Most Americans (71%) believe the threat of climate change is distant, affecting future generations. Perhaps this is the main point why the US is so slow to take action against the phenomenon -- they just don't see it as an urgent threat. Again, it's an instance when the population has not caught up to the science. Climate change is affecting people all over the world right now, including in the US. However, 40% of Americans say they have experienced the effects of climate change first hand. Also...
- Four in ten Americans (39%) think the odds that global warming will cause humans to Four in ten Americans (39%) think the odds that global warming will cause humans to become extinct are 50% or higher.
- Americans (78%) believe children should be taught the science of climate change, as well as potential solutions --which is highly encouraging.
So to sum it up, Americans largely understand that climate change is happening, though some still believe it's not a man-made phenomenon. They think it's a distant problem, which will affect future generations, and even has the potential to wipe out humanity. Yet it's a problem many have experienced themselves. It's a complex, sometimes contradictory image, with a lot of both positives and negatives, and definitely a lot of voids that need to be filled -- by science.