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We (nearly) all agree global warming is happening, so why the silence?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/03/17 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Climate

When Yale University started its Program on Climate Change Communication in 2008, sentiment on climate change was running high. Of the 18,000 individuals polled, 71% said they believed it was happening.

Red zone<br />America believes that global warming is happening, according to a poll conducted by Yale University of 18,000 individuals.Who's talking<br />Americans are talking less about global warming in most parts of the country (purple), despite wide scale believe that its happening, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Mysteriously, for the past eight years, the strength of American opinion on climate change slipped.

Scientists were still producing computer models with great clarity on the role of human activity in altering planetary systems. Evidence was arriving in real time. Major coastal areas and cities like Miami began to see floods—on sunny days. Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York City. California sustained a major drought followed by massive rain events. The U.S. was responding. Signing with China and 19 other nations a historic pact to slow carbon emissions, a leading contributor to climate disruptions.

Fast forward to November, 2016, when Yale released its latest poll. Public opinion had rebounded.

Despite the poll coming out during one of the more bruising presidential elections in recent memory—when the only air time devoted to climate change was in openly questioning it—70% of Americans told Yale they believe that climate change is happening (nearing the high water mark of 2008).

President Trump may have Tweeted that climate change is a “hoax,” which can sow doubts. Indeed, Yale found that 28% of Americans think “There’s a lot of disagreement” between “Most Scientists (who) think global warming is happening.” Further, 32% believe climate change is caused by Natural Changes.

On the other hand, the number of Americans who are worried about climate change has grown to 58%.

In an effort to better understand what the data reveals about locational differences of opinion, and opportunities to open new dialogues about climate change, the Yale Program produced an interactive map. Interested in knowing where Ohio splits on its belief that climate change is happening? Where is the strongest opinion by region for wanting to take action (regulating carbon dioxide as a global warming threat)? What opportunities exist with Americans worried about global warming (58%) and those who think global warming will harm future generations (70%)? What about the space between the majority and the (31%) of people who admit to never discussing global warming?

The interactive climate map allows you to toggle between percentages and the difference of opinion (from national average) on. It is also possible to drill down to state, county and metro levels.

Looking at the national map, there are only three counties in the entire U.S. that are “blue” (weak). The country is a complete patchwork of red (strong) and orange (somewhat) believing global warming is happening. The lightest spots are mostly in the mid section of the country, and the strongest regions are the Upper Midwest, the front range of the Rockies, The West Coast, Texas in the borderlands, The Southwest, The Northeast and in Florida.

There are other deep red pools in the Dakotas and Native Lands where a natural gas pipeline has sparked strong protests, and areas of Montana and Wyoming surrounding the national parks (Glacier, Yellowstone, and Teton) where stronger beliefs that climate change is happening stand out.

In Ohio, like most states, the strongest acceptance that climate change is happening in urban counties. With the exception of Athens County in the southeastern corner of the state (near the Wayne National Forest and Hocking Hills) which has the highest (76%), and Stark (Canton) and Montgomery (Dayton) which are below the national average. Is proximity of one’s home to natural areas more of an indicator connected to their higher level of expressing belief that global warming is happening?

Key take aways

  • There is a slightly higher level of acceptance in counties touching a Great Lake than their rural counterparts.
  • Most of the country doesn’t think global warming will harm them personally, but we do agree unanimously that it will harm future generations.
  • There is even stronger support (75% of the country) for regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, which the Clean Power Plan passed by the Obama Administration will do, than even general acceptance of global warming.
  • A silence about global warming is pervasive in the U.S. (31% never talk about it). Why, if so many people believe in global warming, are so few talking about it?

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