Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change - Majority Get An ‘F’
The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication recently did a survey:
Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change reports results from a national study of what Americans understand about how the climate system works, and the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to global warming. Among other findings, the study identifies a number of important gaps in public knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change.
Overall, we found that 63 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, but many do not understand why. In this assessment, only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F. The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system. These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that global warming is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks. Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society. For example, only:
57% know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat;
50% of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities;
45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface;
25% have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification.
Meanwhile, large majorities incorrectly think that the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans contribute to global warming, leading many to incorrectly conclude that banning aerosol spray cans or stopping rockets from punching holes in the ozone layer are viable solutions.
However, many Americans do understand that emissions from cars and trucks and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming, and that a transition to renewable energy sources is an important solution.
In addition, despite the recent controversies over “climategate” and the 2007 IPCC report, this study finds that Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming.
Americans also recognize their own limited understanding. Only 1 in 10 say that they are “very well informed” about climate change, and 75 percent say they would like to know more about the issue. Likewise, 75 percent say that schools should teach our children about climate change and 68 percent would welcome a national program to teach Americans more about the issue.
PDF of the Report can be found here:
I guess we should be happy that the results aren’t worse, given the large amount of effort put in to actively deceiving the American electorate by vested energy interests and the anti-knowledge crowd.
Some tidbits from the report:
• A majority of Americans (67%) correctly understands that the Earth’s climate has not been the same for millions of years, but a large majority (67%) incorrectly believes that the Earth’s climate has always shifted gradually between warm and cold periods.
One of the canards of the denial-o-sphere is that the Earth’s climate is “always changing”. What is misleading about that statement is that the real climate sometimes changes slowly, sometimes it changes quickly, and sometimes it remains seemingly stable for many millions of years. Yet that has no bearing on if humans are currently changing the climate, which can be determined by looking at the actions of humans.
• A slight majority (54%) understands that ocean currents carry heat from the equator toward the poles, but 34 percent say they don’t know whether this is true or false. Fewer Americans (33%) correctly understand that the atmosphere does not carry heat from the poles (which are cold) towards the equator (which is warm), while 40 percent say they don’t know.
Hmmm… looks like LVQ has a big job ahead of him instructing Americans on thermodynamics….
• Respondents were given the current temperature of the Earth’s surface (approximately 58º Fahrenheit) as a reference point. They were then asked what they thought the average temperature was during the last ice age. The correct answer is between 46º and 51º. The median public response, however, was 32º – the freezing point of water – while many other people responded 0º.
One of the big challenges in describing climate to the average person is to deal with numbers - untrained, many people can’t make judgements on whether a numerical value is too little or too big.
The survey looked at how the denial-o-sphere’s spin is working:
• Many Americans incorrectly believe that since scientists can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance, they can’t possibly predict the climate of the future (42%) or that computer models are too unreliable to predict the climate of the future (37%).
• A third of Americans (35%) incorrectly believe that in the 1970s, most scientists were predicting an ice age.
• A third of Americans (33%) also incorrectly believe that since the Earth’s climate has changed naturally in the past, humans are not the cause of global warming today.
• Relatively few (19%) incorrectly believe that any recent global warming is caused by the sun, that the record snowstorms last winter in the eastern U.S. prove that global warming is not happening (18%), or that the Earth is actually cooling, not warming (15%).
• Only 12 percent of Americans say that global warming is happening, but will be more beneficial than harmful.
• All of these items, however, include from 19 to 47 percent of Americans who say they don’t know whether these statements are true or false.
As one can see, the denialists are plowing fertile ground when they intentionally confuse weather and climate, as they know it will work with the American public.
And so on… the survey is full of such findings.
Politically what matters is money - in the pockets of the voters, or the lack thereof. As such, scientific knowledge isn’t the most important of deciders in American politics, yet I hope that as a society we can become more knowledgeable about those issues which do indeed affect us.