A new report published jointly by Yale University and George Mason University finds that Americans are much less concerned about climate change than they were just a year ago. Fifty-seven percent of Americans polled believe climate change is happening, compared with a figure of 71 percent in October 2008, a 14 point drop.
The reason ought to be clear. The climate confusion campaign – waged by the like of Americans for Prosperity, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Petroleum Institute and American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) – is alive and well, and obviously still inflicting damage.
According to the study, only 47 percent of Americans think global warming is caused mostly by human activities, a 10 point drop. Only 50 percent of Americans now say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” about global warming, a 13-point decrease.
The report, “Climate Change in the American Mind,”[PDF] reveals that Americans are increasingly distrustful of scientists, politicians and the media concerning climate change. The public’s trust in scientists dropped nine points from 83 to 74 percent, while trust in the mainstream news media’s coverage of climate change fell from 47 percent in 2008 to 36 percent now.
Anthony Leiserowitz, principal investigator and director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, told CNN: “I’m not surprised by the direction of the results but I am surprised at the magnitude of them. These are steep drop offs and this is despite the fact that, if anything, the climate science is getting stronger and more concerning over the past year.”
Leiserowitz points to the damage caused by “Climategate” and “Glaciergate.” He is partially right; those scandals did cause damage. Unfortunately the damage was inflicted on climate scientists.
The real let-down was the media’s obsession with the mythology that scientists had somehow made up global warming by cooking the data. Anyone who took the time to review the emails or the glacial records knows that assertion is patently false.
The real damage caused by these scandals resulted from the lazy reporting done by most journalists on the subject. The media failed to report the real story of “Climategate” – that a crime was committed by thieves who stole from a prestigious university in order to further an agenda of harassment against climate scientists. And while “Glaciergate” was an embarrassing screw-up by the IPCC, it didn’t change the fact that glaciers are melting worldwide, causing sea level rise that is already affecting coastal communities.
In both of these cases, and in general, the media should shoulder the bulk of the responsibility, failing to remind the public that the body of science proving human-caused climate change is vast and global, published in peer-reviewed journals, and validated by major scientific bodies the world over.
Readers of DeSmog Blog know well that these recent polling results have much more to do with the decades-long confusion campaign designed by polluting interests to keep the public in the dark about how serious climate change really is.
“There is a real need for improved public education and communication on this critical issue. The science is getting stronger and public opinion is going in the opposite direction,” Leiserowitz says.
That’s an understatement.
This research underscores my view that climate advocates are incompetent communicators. With all the science in the world behind us, and a good deal of the public credibility, we still can’t win a debate with people who have all the facts working against them.
Why do we bring a knife to the gunfight with the likes of CEI and the API? As someone recently said, it’s like the Boy Scouts taking on the Mafia.
It’s time to change all that. Advocates need to get their hands dirty and scientists need to get out of the office and communicate directly with the public about this urgent crisis.
Whether the American public believes it or not, climate change will continue to threaten American jobs, national security and health. So we’d better all get better at explaining that reality.