A new Brookings Institution study shows that climate science beliefs are shifting, and recent extreme weather events have undoubtedly affected public opinion, according to Think Progress:
As you can see, the biggest jump is from independents, demonstrating once again that global warming has become a major wedge issue. Many other recent polls have made that clear (see “Gallup poll: Public understanding of global warming gains” and “Independents, Other Republicans Split With Tea-Party Extremists on Global Warming”). Now if progressive politicians would only seize on this winning issue.
Perhaps even more remarkable than this rebound in understanding is the record rise in the public’s confidence in their accurate understanding of climate science that the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change [NSAPOCC] found:
Just under two thirds of those who believe global warming is occurring stated that they were very confident of this position. This 63 percent confidence level is 14 percentage points higher than in the fall of 2011 and marks the highest level since the NSAPOCC began in 2008.
Why would confidence be growing, especially when the media and key opinion-makers have all but stopped talking about climate change?
Brookings had previously found that Americans’ Understanding of Climate Change Is Increasing With More Extreme Weather, Warmer Temperatures. Certainly the American public is seeing for themselves the off-the-chart heat waves and other extreme weather that climate scientists have long said would become more common as we pour more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (see NOAA Chief: U.S. Record of a Dozen Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in One Year Is “a Harbinger of Things to Come”). That was especially true in March (see “March Came In Like A Lamb, Went Out Like A Globally Warmed Lion On Steroids Who Smashed 15,000 Heat Records“).
The new survey added further evidence that “the growth in the percentage of Americans who see evidence of global warming appears to be related to individual perceptions of weather conditions and events.”:
During the cold and snowy winters of 2010 and 2011 the percentage of respondents who indicated that their experiences with milder winters had a very large effect on their views about global warming was relatively low with 19 percent and 17 percent of respondents selecting this response. Conversely, about twice as many respondents in the latest NSAPOCC reported that the mild winter had a large effect on their view that planetary temperatures are rising.
The effect of the milder winter conditions were also evident in many of the openended comments that respondents provided to the question regarding the primary factor behind their belief that global warming was occurring. For example, a middle-aged male from Connecticut stated that “there was no winter this year,” and a young woman in Maryland noted that “the seasons are abnormal with no snow and cold.” When asked to provide the key factor behind her view that global warming was occurring a middle-aged woman in Wisconsin said that her “garden was already growing in March.”
Even though extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity, the close relationship between weather and beliefs about global warming can potentially make public opinion fickle over the short term — particularly since the continental United States comprises only a tiny fraction of the world and thus its weather is even more erratic than the Earth’s climate as a whole.
See the full Brookings report here: “Continued Rebound in American Belief in Climate Change” (PDF)