CLIMATEWIRE | As extreme weather wracks much of the globe, large majorities of Americans believe that in many cases, climate change is to blame.
Roughly three-quarters of respondents to a recent poll said global warming is affecting weather-related issues in the United States, including extreme heat, wildfires, drought and rising sea levels, according to a report released yesterday by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
While those numbers are down slightly from “all-time highs” reported in September 2021, when that summer’s extreme weather was fresh on people’s minds, it’s reflective of a broader pattern: Increased exposure to extreme weather appears to be shaping the way Americans think about climate change, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale climate program and one of the principal investigators on the report.
Political affiliation remains the major influencer of people’s perceptions of climate change, with Republicans being more likely to be skeptical of climate change than Democrats, Leiserowitz said. But his team’s survey of 1,018 people in April and May indicates that Americans’ outlook on warming is being shaped by their experience with extreme weather.
“For years, we found no influence of these direct experiences because it was so swamped by politics,” Leiserowitz said in an interview.
“We think that signal is finally emerging out of the noise, if you will,” he added. “The impact of these direct experiences is beginning to take hold as a significant factor in people’s perceptions and decisionmaking.”
Extreme weather events last year and in 2020 were particularly “brutal,” Leiserowitz said, and more climate-focused media coverage and political discourse appear to be convincing people that climate change is happening and affecting them.
Global warming is already having severe impacts. Last year was the fourth-hottest in United States history and generated the second-highest number of climate disasters, killing 688 people, according to a NOAA report (E&E News PM, Jan. 10).
Heat waves in Europe this week have smashed daily temperature records, and above-normal temperatures across much of the eastern and southern United States triggered excessive-heat warnings and advisories this week from the National Weather Service.
In California, where wildfires yesterday were scorching nearly 10,000 acres of land, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has declared a drought emergency, and state regulators have instituted emergency water-use restrictions.
Those kinds of climate-change-related events are prompting Americans to change their behavior. The survey found that 13 percent of respondents have considered moving to avoid extreme weather caused by global warming.
“It was pretty stunning,” Leiserowitz said. “That, of course, has enormous potential consequences for real estate values, property taxes, where people are moving to and ultimately influencing our politics and so on and so forth.”
Sixty-four percent of Americans say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, while 75 percent say they think climate change is affecting extreme heat. Almost half of those surveyed, or 48 percent, said they think people in the United States are being harmed by the effects of climate change “right now."
Those figures are higher than they have been in most of the past decade and are indicative of changing attitudes that have coincided with extreme weather events becoming more common, Leiserowitz said.
His team’s surveys have found that in the past six years, the number of Americans who are totally dismissive of climate change has dropped by about 3 percentage points — currently about 9 percent of the country — while the number of Americans who are alarmed by climate change has approximately tripled — currently about 33 percent of the country.
“The fact is that we live in a very different nation today on this issue than we did six years ago or 10 years ago,” Leiserowitz said.
The researchers reported a 95 percent confidence level in the survey results, with an average margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.