The Heat Is Online

Poll: Public Concern About Warming Fades

Americans cooling on climate change, survey says

  • Survey of American adults reveals a sharp fall in concern for climate change issues
  • Fewer Americans trust scientists and climate leaders as source of information on climate
  • In 2008 71 percent of Americans thought climate change real. Figure now is 57 percent.
 (CNN) -- Public concern about global warming and trust in climate leaders has dropped sharply in the U.S. according to a survey.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans polled at the end of 2009 and early 2010 believe climate change is happening compared with a figure of 71 percent in October 2008.
The report, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” published jointly by Yale University and the George Mason University Wednesday also reveals a picture of falling trust in scientists, politicians and the media concerning climate change.
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."
Over 1000 American adults were interviewed for the report. Respondents answered questions on a range of climate change issues including rating their trust of public institutions and climate leaders as a source of information.
Trust in scientists dropped nine percent from 83 to 74 percent, while faith in the mainstream news media slumped from 47 percent in 2008 to 36 percent.
Along with the media, Al Gore experienced the biggest fall in trust according to the survey. In 2008, 58 percent of respondents said they "strongly trust" or "somewhat trust" the former vice president and climate activist. In 2010 that figure has fallen to 47 percent.
Support for President Barack Obama remained largely unchanged at 51 percent compared to 53 percent in October 2008.
Other prominent climate opinion makers faired poorly. 36 percent of people trust the former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin while only 35 percent rate Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger as a reliable source of information on climate change.
Leiserowitz thinks this widespread decline in support is down to two main factors.
"Clearly the economy is dominating all issues right now. People in the U.S. are, frankly, afraid and they're angry at Washington, Wall Street and elected officials who don't seem to be responding. As a result the climate has gone down in public priority," Leiserowitz said.
"But I think also in the past few weeks and months some really troubling stories have been reported around climate science," he added.
Leiserowitz points to the damage caused first by the so-called “Climategate” scandal in November 2009 which was seized upon by climate skeptics who argued scientists have been suppressing data.
And more recently concerns surrounding parts of the Himalayan glacier data published in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"They [climate skeptics] have taken these as opportunities to drive home their particular message, and I think they've been successful."
What this all underlines, Leiserowitz says, is the need to educate the American people. "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."


American Opinion Cools on Global Warming

 Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Jan. 27, 2010

Today the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is releasing the results of a new national survey on public responses to climate change. This report focuses on public beliefs and attitudes and finds that public concern about global warming has dropped sharply since the fall of 2008:
* The percentage of Americans who think global warming is happening has declined 14 points, to 57 percent.
* The percentage of Americans who think global warming is caused mostly by human activities has dropped 10 points, to 47 percent.
* Only 50 percent of Americans now say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” about global warming, a 13-point decrease.
In line with these shifting beliefs, there has been an increase in the number of Americans who think global warming will never harm people or other species in the United States or elsewhere.
The survey also found lower public trust in a variety of institutions and leaders, including scientists. For example, Americans’ trust in the mainstream news media as a reliable source of information about global warming declined by 11 percentage points, television weather reporters by 10 points and scientists by 8 points. They also distrust leaders on both sides of the political fence. Sixty-five percent distrust Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sarah Palin as sources of information, while 53 percent distrust former Democratic Vice President Al Gore and 49 percent distrust President Barack Obama.
Finally, Americans who believe that most scientists think global warming is happening decreased 13 points, to 34 percent, while 40 percent of the public now believes there is a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is happening or not.
Despite growing scientific evidence that global warming will have serious impacts worldwide, public opinion is moving in the opposite direction. Over the past year the United States has experienced rising unemployment, public frustration with Washington and a divisive health care debate, largely pushing climate change out of the news. Meanwhile, a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct may have contributed to an erosion of public trust in climate science.
It is also clear that public understanding of climate change fundamentals - that it is happening, is human caused, and will have serious consequences for human societies and natural ecosystems here in the United States and around the world - is heading in the wrong direction. These findings underscore the critical need for more and improved climate change education and communication.
A copy of the report is available at