Just in time for the arrival of an El Niño that could make 2014 the hottest year on record, Gallup has released a new poll revealing how Americans feel about the changing climate. Despite countless scientific reports regarding the dangers and immediacy of global warming, a quarter of Americans remain “solidly skeptical” of the phenomenon.
According to the poll, “Concerned Believers” — those who attribute global warming to human actions, and are wary of its effects — make up the largest portion of those surveyed, at 39 percent. The “Mixed Middle” is the second largest group with 36 percent, and the “Cool Skeptics” make up the last 25 percent of respondents.
The “Cool Skeptics” have nearly doubled in number from 2001, when they made up only 12 percent of Americans. The “Concerned Believers” have maintained their numbers for the past 13 years, while those in the middle have become increasingly skeptical. In 2001, nearly half of those surveyed qualified as “Mixed Middle,” 10 percent above today’s levels.
The major difference between “Cool Skeptics” and “Concerned Believers” lies with the source of global warming — 100 percent of the former believe that rises in global temperatures are due to natural cycles and phenomena, while 100 percent of the latter believe that human activity is to blame. The skeptics also believe that media reports are exaggerated, and none of them believe climate change will pose a threat to their lifestyle or that of their progeny. The “Mixed Middle” holds a combination of these views, with some unsure of the cause of global warming and others unclear as to the immediacy of its effects.
Those who do not believe in global warming are overwhelmingly male, comprising 66 percent of the group. On the other hand, those who are concerned are largely female, with women making up 60 percent of those surveyed. Age and political affiliation are major indicators of global warming opinions — the majority of “Cool Skeptics” are over 50 and two-thirds identify as conservative, whereas those who are under 50 and call themselves liberals make up the majority of the “Concerned Believers.” Education does not appear to have an effect on opinions regarding global warming.
The effect of party identification on global warming beliefs is certainly in line with the GOP’s increasing disdain for environmental debate. With the growing prominence of the Tea Party, climate change has become more and more of a myth in Republicans’ eyes, with a Pew Research Poll showing that a mere 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans believe there is evidence of global warming — 41 percent of them say that global warming just isn’t happening. In fact, the words “Earth Day” have not passed Republican lips in Congress since 2010, when Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) made a speech in support of nuclear power. By contrast, Democrats have mentioned Earth Day 57 times since 2010.
Moreover, prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan all downplay the seriousness of climate change. On CNN’s Crossfire in January, Gingrich argued that a warmer planet would be all right, since the dinosaurs got along just fine. Romney and Ryan were staunchly opposed to cap-and-trade legislation during the 2012 presidential campaign, arguing that it would be “disastrous” for the American economy. In a 2009 op-ed that remains on Ryan’s website, he cites cold winters as evidence against global warming, ignoring the ice fishermen in his state who have seen rapidly receding ice cover over the past several years.
Though the rate of global warming has declined, likely as a result of stronger than usual Pacific trade winds that have forced heat down beneath the ocean, overall global temperatures have continued to rise. Each of the 10 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 1998. And as per Newton’s third law, every action must have an equal and opposite reaction — leaving scientists increasingly concerned that this buildup of heat beneath the ocean’s surface will give rise to a particularly strong El Niño event that will once again lead to rapid global warming.
As with many other issues, it appears that Americans have grown increasingly polarized about the seriousness and causes of global warming. Since 2010, the percentage of Americans who believe that human activity and pollution catalyze climate change has dropped, as has the number of those who believe global warming is a serious issue that requires immediate attention. Some of this skepticism could be attributed to the “Climategate” scandal of 2009, in which a series of leaked emails from leading scientists in the climate change arena suggested that they had overstated the severity of the issue as well as the role humans played in furthering global warming.
Even so, with continuing reports of the reality of climate change, regardless of whether or not it is entirely caused by human behavior, it does not seem like an issue that can be quickly brushed aside — 2014 is already slated to be the hottest year ever, and 2015 might top it. Maybe when sea levels in neighborhoods begin to rise as a result of global warming, opinions will begin to change.