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May 07, 2004

A Myth about Public Opinion and Global Warming


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change

I have heard the argument too many times to count. It goes something like this: Because of the nefarious efforts of “climate contrarians” the public doesn’t believe in global warming and because of the public’s lack of belief, the U.S. government has not taken action on climate change. If you buy this public opinion argument, then the corresponding remedy is both to better educate the public about the existence of global warming and to defeat the contrarians before the public.

And so we see statements like the following quote yesterday in the Seattle Times from the lead author of a paper in Nature that has ignited the latest global warming tempest:

"I believe this shows the satellite temperatures can no longer be used as evidence to claim that global warming is not happening in the atmosphere. I think this could convince not just scientists but the public as well."

Well let’s look at some opinion polls about whether or not the public thinks global warming is happening. The data is very consistent and overwhelming, and doesn’t bode well for the public opinion argument:

1997 74% believe global warming is happening

1999 79% believe global already or will in the future have serious impacts

2000 72% … “of those who have seen, heard or read about global warming say that they believe in the theory that increased carbon dioxide and other gases will lead to global warming and an increase in average temperatures.”

2001 75% …“of those who have seen, heard or read about global warming say that they believe in the theory that increased carbon dioxide and other gases will lead to global warming and an increase in average temperatures.”

2002 74% … “of those who have seen, heard or read about global warming say that they believe in the theory that increased carbon dioxide and other gases will lead to global warming and an increase in average temperatures.”

2003 75% are somewhat or very concerned about global warming

Granted that the public is not at all scientifically literate about climate change, and granted as well global warming is not among the environmental issues that the public is most concerned about. However, the battle over public opinion about the existence of global warming has been won. Efforts made trying to convince the public that global warming is “real” are pretty much wasted on the convinced. The public overwhelmingly believes global warming to be real and consequential. In fact, I’d even hypothesize that when compared to what the public actually believes about climate change and the future, the IPCC reports would seem pretty tame.

Posted on May 7, 2004 11:52 AM

Comments

Why should the public be forced to believe in something that has not been inconclusively proven? Why should governments shell out billions of dollars to tackle the "problem" of global warming through the Kyoto protocol? That is an illogical step to take. If computer simulations cannot prrdict tomorrows stock prices accurately, then why should citizens be forced to believe that the future atmospheric conditions, which require countless variables to be included (and which are not) in the climate models, are accurate? And why would incresed temperatures be so bad? What is all this madness about. In the 1970s there was a fear of a global ice age, now this. People should think through all the data presented and not be forced to go along with the "fact" of climate change.

Posted by: theenergyanalyst at April 3, 2005 07:44 PM


The preceeding comment's idiocy knows no bounds.

RealClimate has answers to all the 'questions' asked by "theeneregyanalyst".

Posted by: Silent E at July 6, 2005 02:12 PM




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