Brookings Survey Shows Public View on Climate Change Mercurial at Best

I don’t want to seem humorless, and I do agree with Jason that there is a “tendency of nearly everyone to joke about wintertime cold spells” as counter-evidence to global warming. However, this Brookings reportThe Climate of Belief: American Public Opinion on Climate Change, reinforces my statement that it’s callous and irresponsible for those in the public eye to make this “joke” (I don’t truly believe that they think they’re joking).

Apparently Americans’ view on climate change and the necessity for decisive action is mercurial at best.  Even belief in the most fundamental findings of climate scientists — evident in answers to questions like, “From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?” — is subject to abrupt change. According to the report, in 2008, 72 percent of respondents answered “Yes” to that question, while, last year, it was only 66 percent. Most of the shift came from self-identified “independents,” who went from 74 to 61 percent from 2008 to 2009.

And the hits just keep on coming. Even among those who answered “Yes” to the question above, the percentage who said that they were “very confident” that “the average temperature on earth is increasing” dropped from 58 to 40.  There is good news in that, in that same group, the number who believe that changing temperatures can be linked directly to “human activities” remained constant. However that is followed by some of the worst news in the report, the percentage who believe that global warming is a “very serious” problem tumbled from 60 to 51. The full report (pdf) follows with some interesting opinions on various policy options — worth the read but tangential to my point.

Unfortunately, the Brookings survey shows the public view on climate is malleable in a very short time period. And, again, public opinion and desire for change is central to mustering the political will necessary to forge a global agreement.  I shouldn’t have to follow that by saying that if we don’t do something soon there will be severe consequences, but apparently I do.