Gallup’s March update to a long-running series of polls that ask about environmental issues reveals that 57 percent of Americans say that global warming is caused by humans. This question was part of a longer series of items related to climate change that Gallup asked March 6-9.
Responses to the complete survey are reported in a series of articles being published on Gallup’s Web site this month.
Gallup asked people whether they though human activity or natural changes were responsible for a dramatic temperature change over the past century or so. Fifty seven percent of respondents said that human activity was responsible for the temperature changes, compared with 43 percent, who attributed the change to natural variations.
Each of the annual polls also asked how well respondents think they understand climate change. In the latest poll, 33 percent claimed to understand the subject “very well,” up from 11% in 1992. The two figures are bookends on a trend toward increasing confidence in the public regarding how well they understand the issue.
Poll results revealed the most knowledgeable Americans were least likely to blame human activity for global warming. Since 2001, when 69 percent of those who claimed to understand climate change “very” well blamed human activity, the trend has been downward. In the 2014 poll, 47 percent of respondents who understood climate change very well attributed temperature changes to human activity.
Gallup has asked the same question since 2001, when 61 percent of respondents blamed human activity for rising temperatures. That number has varied between 61 percent in 2001, 2003, 2007 and 50 percent in 2010. This update to the poll came after a scandal involving accusations of data being faked or massaged to make temperature changes look worse.
The results vary by political party, with Democrats being more likely than either Republicans or Independents to attribute climate change to human activity. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats attribute climate change to human activity compared with 50 percent of Independents and 41 percent of Republicans.
In spite of public disputes about the causes, consequences and science associated with climate change, most Americans continue to say that humans have caused global warming. Results of the latest poll show that only about four in 10 Americans believe climate change will threaten their way of life.
Gallup released these results and associated commentary on Tuesday as part of a series on the results of the 2014 Environment Poll. Other results, released last week showed that climate change ranks next to last in a list of Americans’ concerns. Fifty-four percent of Americans polled believed that climate change is having an impact on society now.
The poll asked whether there was colder than normal weather or a drought in the area. Respondents who were experiencing either situation were asked to say whether it was caused by human activity or by normal variations in the weather. Of the 66 percent who were experiencing colder-than-normal weather, 46 percent said it was because of normal variations in temperature and 19 percent attributed the cold to human-caused climate change.
Twenty-five percent or respondents said their area was experiencing a drought. Of those individuals, 15 percent blamed normal variations in rainfall for the drought and 9 percent thought global warming was responsible.
Gallup also asked Americans if global warming is presented fairly, neither as a bigger threat than it is nor downplayed in the news. Forty-two percent said that the threat is “greatly exaggerated” in the news. This is a decline from the peak of 48 percent in 2010 but an increase from the typical numbers for 1998 through 2009. The percentage who said the threat was generally underestimated has stayed relatively stable at 27 percent to 33 percent from 1998 through 2014.
The Environment Poll was conducted less than two weeks before a flurry of climate-related research and policy news. A report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a report warning of possible severe consequences of climate change. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was also leaked earlier this week.
President Obama today announced the launch of an initiative to give citizens and organizations better access to climate change data. The White House team up with some big tech companies to make community-level data readily available and easy to use.
This latest Gallup poll shows a disconnect between what Americans say about global warming being caused by humans and other questions in the study, and information coming from climate science researchers.
By Chester Davis