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Yale climate change report finds Americans more aware

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/13/11 @ 10:16am

Yale Project on Climate Change released the first of four reports from its latest national survey on Americans' climate change and energy beliefs, attitudes, policy support, and behavior. In "Americans' Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in May 2011", they found that since June 2010, a number of important beliefs and attitudes have shifted slightly up or down, depending on the measure.

Since June 2010, public understanding that global warming is happening rose three points, to 64 percent, while belief that it is caused mostly by human activities declined three points, to 47 percent. The number of Americans who worry about global warming held stable at 52 percent, while the number of Americans who said that the issue is personally important to them dropped three points, to 60 percent.

Since June 2010, public understanding that most scientists think global warming is happening rose 5 points, to 39 percent, while 40 percent of Americans continue to believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists.

For the first time, we asked Americans to estimate what proportion of climate scientists think global warming is happening. Only 13 percent get the correct answer (81 to 100%), while 31 percent say they don't know. Likewise, only 15 percent correctly understand that the great majority of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, while 32 percent say they don't know.

Nonetheless, roughly half of all Americans say that global warming is already causing or making the following events worse in the United States: coastline erosion and flooding (52%); droughts (50%); hurricanes (49%); rivers flooding (48%); and wildfires (45%).

Perhaps reflecting major declines in media reporting, global warming has also dropped in public consciousness. Only 45 percent of Americans say they have thought some (33%) or a lot (12%) about global warming, a drop of 10 points since June 2010. At the same time, 52 percent Americans say they would like more information about global warming ? an increase of 5 points since June 2010.

Levels of trust in television weather reporters, the mainstream news media, and scientists as sources of information about global warming have also dropped since June 2010 (by 9, 7, and 5 points respectively). Overall levels of trust remain high, however, for scientists (76%) and for federal agencies that deal with climate change, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (76%); the National Park Service (73%); the Center for Disease Control (69%); the Environmental Protection Agency (62%); and the Department of Energy (59%). President Obama is trusted as a source of information on global warming by 46 percent of Americans, while only 36 percent trust their own U.S. Congressman/Congresswoman.

These upward and downward shifts in public beliefs and attitudes are relatively small, compared to the larger declines that occurred between the fall of 2008 and January 2010. Public understanding of climate change ? and public engagement in the issue ? remains lower than it was in 2008.

The report can be downloaded here:

Americans' Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in May 2011

Source: Anthony Leiserowitz, Ph.D. Director, Yale Project on Climate Change School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Yale University

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