Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Public Opinion, Weather, and Climate

Yale's Project on Climate Change Communication released a poll today on public opinion on climate change that has been receiving a lot of news attention, such as in this N.Y. Times article.  The highlights of the poll include, as described on the project's website, include:

  • 82 percent of Americans report that they personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or a natural disaster in the past year;
  • 35 percent of all Americans report that they were personally harmed either a great deal or a moderate amount by one or more of these extreme weather events in the past year;
  • Over the past several years, Americans say the weather in the U.S. has been getting worse – rather than better – by a margin of over 2 to 1 (52% vs. 22%);
  • A large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse, including the unusually warm winter of December 2011 and January 2012 (72%), record high summer temperatures in the U.S. in 2011 (70%), the drought in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 (69%), record snowfall in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011 (61%), the Mississippi River floods in the spring of 2011 (63%), and Hurricane Irene (59%);
  • Only 36 percent of Americans have a disaster emergency plan that all members of their family know about or an emergency supply kit in their home (37%).

These results raise hard questions about how to help raise public awareness about climate change science, and in particular, the complex relationship between extreme weather events and climate.  While it appears that having exposure to extreme weather events--some of which like heat waves are among more certain climate change impacts--makes people more concerned about climate change, we need to find additional ways to move beyond the sound bite discourse on this topic and help foster public understanding of nuanced scientific and technological issues. 

Hari Osofsky

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