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As the World Warms, More Americans Put Their Heads in the Sand

Posted on Aug 26, 2013
tropical.pete (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Even as the scientific community has moved to near-unanimous belief that human activity fuels global warming, the National Journal reports that polls show the percentage of Americans who believe the two are linked has stalled or eroded.

The problem: echo-chamber journalism and political leaders, the Journal says.

The growing gap is alarming, but hardly surprising. As they evaluate global warming, most people aren’t thumbing through U.N. reports or calling their local climate scientists. In fact, there’s mass misunderstanding over what scientists think about global warming: In Pew’s 2012 survey, fewer than half of all respondents thought scientists generally believed human activity is heating the globe.

Instead, people are getting their climate cues from their preferred media outlets and elected officials. And so, the public’s climate-change confidence is divorced from climate science and increasingly wedded to the political debate.

In 2013, only about one in five Republicans told Pew they thought human activity should be blamed for global warming, while nearly nine out of 10 Democrats thought the two were connected. And that disparity will likely be exacerbated as Americans increasingly tailor their media consumption to outlets that reinforce their preexisting beliefs.

The Journal cited separate polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University that found an erosion in public belief that human activity and global warming are connected. The Pew poll in 2006 found 47 percent of the public agreed with the scientists, but that dropped to 42 percent in March 2013.

The willful ignorance isn’t limited to science. A survey released last week by Public Policy Polling found that 28 percent of Louisiana Republicans believed President George W. Bush was responsible for the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A similar number—29 percent—blamed Barack Obama, who when Katrina hit was a freshman senator from Illinois best known for a single speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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