Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is

Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is

The world is often better and getting better than people think. Murder rates, deaths from terrorism and extreme poverty are all down. Life expectancy, health and education levels are up. But, as I explore in my book Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, people mostly think things are worse than they are and going downhill fast because of the natural tendency of humans to focus on negative stories and forget how bad the past was.

But there is one vital, even existential, exception: people still don’t realise how bad the world’s climate and natural environment have become. Misperceptions about climate change and the ecological crisis are all too clear from a new survey of Americans that tested their understanding of how far the problem has progressed in their lifetimes.

Recycling will save us?

It’s an extraordinary fact that all 20 of the hottest years on record have been in the last 22 years. But when we asked the US public how many of the past 22 years have been among the hottest, the average guess is 14, and only 15% of Americans correctly guess that it is all 20 years. Democrats are slightly better at getting the right answer (23%) than Republicans (9%).

It’s understandable that people might be poorly versed in statistics like this, but there’s also confusion over what the biggest causes of warming are. The people we interviewed guessed that 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from air travel, when it’s only around 2%. While aeroplanes emit a lot of CO₂ during each flight, air travel is still relatively infrequent, compared with, say, car journeys.

The rarity of flying explains why, despite aviation’s relatively limited contribution to emissions, one of the most effective actions a person can take is to fly less. A study by Swedish academics puts skipping one transatlantic flight as the third most effective action someone can take, only behind having one less child and living entirely car free. But only 10% of the US public pick out skipping the flight as one of the top three. Instead, 45% thought recycling as much as possible is a priority for reducing emissions – a much less effective action than giving up just one flight.

And that’s not the only misperception about recycling. People also think much more plastic waste has been recycled than is really the case. Our respondents thought about half of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste that has been produced worldwide is now languishing in the environment. Research shows it’s an incredible 79%. People thought that a quarter of plastic waste has been recycled, when it’s only 9%.

The people we spoke to also didn’t realise just how much wildlife has suffered over the past few decades, and how precipitous the decline in populations has been. Only a quarter of the US public correctly identify that the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles in the world have declined by 60% since 1970. Again, Democrats were slightly better than Republicans: 26% selected the correct, terrifying answer, compared with 16% of Republicans.

Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is Those interviewed were more likely to pick recycling as an effective way of tackling climate change than foregoing flying. Bobby Duffy, Author provided

Information overload

Despite low engagement with the scale of the problems, people are still worried.

Our new polling also showed that 60% of Americans reject President Donald Trump’s past assertion that global warming is an “expensive hoax” – and instead, 62% agree that the world is facing a “climate change emergency, with the threat of irreversible destruction of our environment in our lifetime”.

But there are huge differences in these attitudes between Republicans and Democrats. Seven in ten Democrats strongly disagree that global warming is an expensive hoax, compared with just 17% of Republicans. Half of Republicans disagree that the world is facing a climate change emergency, compared with just 6% of Democrats.

This very different view between party supporters is despite only relatively small differences in perceptions of the reality between the two groups. This shows that attitudes to big issues like climate change are sometimes so tied up with political identity, including attachment to political parties, that understanding the facts is often secondary.

This is a real challenge for those campaigning for climate action. It’s not enough to just provide more facts and expect people to hear them and act, regardless of how extraordinary those facts are.

About The Author

Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute, King's College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

books_politics

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

EVIDENCE

Predicting The Future Of The Climate Crisis
Can We Predict The Future Of The Climate Crisis?
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Can the future be predicted? Most certainly. Can anyone or anything predict the future with any certainty?
Ice On Earth’s Rivers Is In Rapid Decline
Ice On Earth’s Rivers Is In Rapid Decline
by InnerSelf Staff
The amount of ice in the Earth’s rivers has declined rapidly over the past three decades, and the trend is likely to…
Climate Watchdog Warns US Fracking Boom Leading to 30% Rise in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2025
Climate Watchdog Warns US Fracking Boom Leading to 30% Rise in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2025
by Jessica Corbett
This analysis shows that we're heading in the wrong direction and really need to slow emissions growth from the oil,…
Daily Weather Now Shows Climate Change’s Fingerprints
Daily Weather Now Shows Climate Change’s Fingerprints
by InnerSelf Staff
Climate researchers can now detect the fingerprint of global warming in daily weather observations at the global scale.
Our Climate Is Like Reckless Banking Before The Crash – It's Time To Talk About Near-term Collapse
Our Climate Is Like Reckless Banking Before The Crash – It's Time To Talk About Near-term Collapse
by Aled Jones and Will Steffen
After a quarter of a century of nations from around the world coming together to discuss progress in dealing with…
Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
by Tim Radford
Greenland is shrinking, losing ice seven times faster than a generation ago. Scientists have taken a new and ominous…
Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is
Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is
by Bobby Duffy
The world is often better and getting better than people think. Murder rates, deaths from terrorism and extreme poverty…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.

LATEST VIDEOS

The Rise Of Solar Power
by CNBC
Solar power is on the rise. You can see the evidence on rooftops and in the desert, where utility-scale solar plants…
World's Largest Batteries: Pumped Storage
by Practical Engineering
The vast majority of our grid-scale storage of electricity uses this clever method.
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
by Zhenguo Huang
Have you ever watched a space shuttle launch? The fuel used to thrust these enormous structures away from Earth’s…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…

LATEST ARTICLES

Microsoft’s Moonshot Plan to Reverse Its Lifetime CO2 Emissions by 2050
Microsoft’s Moonshot Plan to Reverse Its Lifetime CO2 Emissions by 2050
by Vanessa Bates Ramirez
The alarming headlines about Australia’s bush fires over the last couple weeks have heightened the global outcry over…
A Climate-linked Financial Crisis Looms, But The Fix Isn't Up To Central Banks
A Climate-Linked Financial Crisis Looms, But The Fix Isn't Up To Central Banks
by Richard Holden
The Bank for International Settlements – the “central bank” for central banks – made headlines with a report outlining…
Paris Climate Goals May Be Beyond Reach
Paris Climate Goals May Be Beyond Reach
by Alex Kirby
Scientists find carbon dioxide is more potent than thought, meaning the Paris climate goals on cutting greenhouse gases…
Stoneflies And Mayflies Are The 'Coal Mine Canaries' Of Our Streams
Stoneflies And Mayflies Are The 'Coal Mine Canaries' Of Our Streams
by Boris Kondratieff
Experienced anglers recognize that for a trout, the ultimate “steak dinner” is a stonefly or mayfly.
Why Action On Climate Change Gets Stuck And What To Do About It
Why Action On Climate Change Gets Stuck and What To Do About It
by Matthew Hoffmann and Steven Bernstein
This erasure of one government’s climate project by its successor was only the tip of the melting iceberg.
5 Ways To Turn CO₂ From Pollution To A Valuable Product
5 Ways To Turn CO₂ From Pollution To A Valuable Product
by Ella Adlen and Cameron Hepburn
It’s far easier to avoid burning fossil fuels than it is to clean up CO₂ emissions once they’re in the Earth’s…
Predicting The Future Of The Climate Crisis
Can We Predict The Future Of The Climate Crisis?
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Can the future be predicted? Most certainly. Can anyone or anything predict the future with any certainty?
Can Sea Water Desalination Save The World?
by CNBC
Today, one out of three people don’t have access to safe drinking water. And that’s the result of many things, but one…