US Public on Global Warming: Been There, Done That, No Big Issue

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This week brought a new Gallup poll of US public opinion on global warming—and the only good news is that nothing has gotten any worse. Still, it staggers the mind to contemplate just how big the gap is between what scientists think about the issue, and what the public thinks.

Public concern about climate change, Gallup reports, is “stable at lower levels”—just 51 percent say they worry significantly about global warming, down from 66 percent in 2007. If you don’t think that the rise of an ever-more-assured climate denialism in Congress is tied to those numbers, you don’t know politics.

As usual, the latest survey also underscores the depth of the partisan divide on the climate issue. Democrats are 40 percentage points more likely to worry about global warming than Republicans, and 35 percentage points more likely to agree with scientists that global warming is human caused. Republicans, meanwhile, are 45 percentage points more likely to claim global warming is exaggerated in the news. Lovely.

The most staggering finding from Gallup, though, is that in one area—and one area alone—we’re making what you might (very ironically) call “progress.” As time passes, Americans are professing to know more about, and better understand, the climate issue. We’ve gone “from 69% saying they understand the issue “very well” or “fairly well” in 2001, to 74% in 2006 and 80% in the current poll,” Gallup reports.

This has got to be the scariest finding of all. People are now saying they’re very familiar with the climate issue, very confident that they understand it. Yet the data about their opinions overwhelmingly shows they misunderstand it in large numbers.

In other words, we have a public that is quite comfortable in its misguided views—and therefore, one presumes, fairly unlikely to change them. And once again, this is mirrored in Congress, where Republicans don’t necessarily even feel they need present a “debate” any more about climate science. They now take it as rendered that it’s all bunkum

Is there anything to feel good about in here? As far as I can tell, just this: Summer is coming. People definitely care more about global warming when it’s hot outside, and if there’s going to be any public opinion shift, that’s when it’s likely to come. Not a lot to pin hopes on, but, well…let’s just say I’m calibrating my hopefulness to the overall bleakness of the public opinion picture.

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