Decline in Americans' Belief in Global Warming
Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 03/01/2011
For the past decade, researchers have been studying what Americans believe about climate change. For several years, more and more of the public has agreed that climate change is taking place. But recently, the number of people who believe climate change is happening... is falling.
Barry Rabe is a professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He’s the author of a new report that draws on the latest public opinion surveys, and he joins me to talk about this.Professor Rabe, your report found fewer people believe the Earth is warming. What’s happening?
RW: What’s going on there?
BR: We think to some extent, all climate interpretation is local. When we ask people where they get information about climate and how they begin to think about these issues, overwhelmingly the way they respond is to talk about their own experience with weather. How has the last year been, has it been a cooler year, a warmer year, have they seen evidence? If you ask this question in different parts of the country, you might get very different answers. In California, perception of climate change is all related to drought. Go to Mississippi or Louisiana, it’s all about hurricanes. It’s part of the challenge of climate change, it means different things in different parts of the world, including here in Michigan. But invariably that’s influenced by where people get their information, from meteorologists, what television they watch, who they listen to in terms of expert authorities, all these kinds of issues. And of course over this period in which there has been this shift or downward movement in concern about climate change, there have been a number of controversies over certain aspects of science, the so-called “Climate Gate” controversy. We actually noticed a substantial drop in that very period where there were some leaked emails and questions about the rigor of some of the climate science that was very influential in the UN process. That seemed to contribute at least in some way.
RW: So, because you’re seeing this drop in belief that the Earth is warming, are you also seeing less support for policies that would take action on climate change?
BR: Speaking very generally, Michiganders and Americans tend to believe, majorities in each areas, that federal and state and local governments should be devoting some attention to this issue. One particular policy, so-called cap and trade, which of course was the center point of discussions in the last Congress, in 2009 and 2010, for possible federal legislation, we have seen some shift and movement on that, less support than we saw a few years ago, but many of the other policy interventions have not shifted all that significantly.
RW: All right, well, thank you so much for your time!
BR: My pleasure, thank you.
RW: Barry Rabe is a professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.