Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Do Fewer Americans Believe in Global Warming?

Summary: Just more than one third of Americans believe climate change is caused by humans these days, but what - or who - is to blame?

According to a Pew Center report released last week, only 57% of Americans believe that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming - down a staggering 14% since April 2008 - and just 36% believe global warming is both real and caused by humans.

Every demographic and ideological group has become more skeptical about climate change, and - with the exception of Americans under 30 and self-described “liberal” Democrats - every one of these groups has become more likely to say it is not a serious problem.

Pollster Jon Krosnick of Stanford University - who has been studying public opinion on global warming since 1993 - told the AP that these recent trends are simply “implausible” because he can’t think of anything that could have caused them.

So we decided to explore why Americans are becoming less likely to believe in global warming.

As the Pew Center authors wrote in the overview of their study - which also examined public opinion on possible cap-and-trade legislation - “As the health care debate has dominated the public’s attention, awareness about cap and trade legislation is quite low.”

That brings us to the first reason why belief in climate change is declining: Americans have less faith that it’s real because they’ve been hearing about it less.

In 2006 - the year Al Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth” and global warming awareness was at an all time high - belief in climate change was 20% higher than it is today.

However, that theory doesn’t seem too likely, as “going green” is something we’re still reminded about on a near daily basis. It’s been impossible to escape all the Prius ads, BP spots, and all the other commercials having to do with eco-friendly consumer choices in the past few years.

In fact, much of the eco-advertising started around 2006 - the same time as “An Inconvenient Truth” - even though it’s strange to see big companies touting green products.

For many of the climate change deniers, one of the reasons they believe global warming is a hoax is because of the “special interests” behind it (i.e. the companies that can profit from it). So are such ads doing more harm than good - are they actually creating a doubt as to global warming’s legitimacy?

While it’s possible, it’s not exactly likely.

That being said, the special interest groups that lobby against legislation such as cap-and-trade may bear a lot of responsibility.

From the AP:

Andrew Weaver, a professor of climate analysis at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said politics could be drowning out scientific awareness.

"It's a combination of poor communication by scientists, a lousy summer in the Eastern United States, people mixing up weather and climate and a full-court press by public relations firms and lobby groups trying to instill a sense of uncertainty and confusion in the public," he said.

And there is some evidence behind this theory.

About a year or two ago, my mother actually forwarded this video attacking “An Inconvenient Truth” in a chain email.

According to a Wall Street Journal article in 2006, the video was covertly created and virally spread by DCI Group, a Republican lobbying firm working for ExxonMobile. DCI Group also helped create video news releases - some of which ended up being used in news reports - and paying the few skeptical scientists out there to appear on talk-radio and write editorials.

The point is this: anyone who believes lobbyists only influence Washington politicians is being naïve.

The truth is that lobbyists communicate with regular Americans on a regular basis - through news, media, and even the more viral - and untraceable - New Media operations such as chain emails and YouTube clips that distort truth and confuse Americans (don’t forget, 12% of Americans still believe President Obama practices Islam). made a good point when they brought up an infamous tobacco lobbying memo which said “doubt is our product” - lobbyists for the oil industry and other special interests threatened by global warming legislation need to sell that same product to the American people. It’s the best way to thwart public opinion against such legislation.

And so far their marketing strategy appears to be working.

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