More Americans Don't Believe Global Warming Is Happening: Survey

Stephanie Pappas
Published: January 17, 2014

The number of Americans who believe global warming isn't happening has risen to 23 percent, up 7 percentage points since April 2013.

The latest survey, taken in November 2013, finds that the majority of Americans — 63 percent — do believe in climate change, and 53 percent are "somewhat" or "very" worried about the consequences.

The proportion of people who do believe in climate change has been steady since April 2013, but the proportion of those who say they "don't know" whether climate change is happening dropped 6 percentage points between April and November 2013, suggesting that many "don't knows" moved into the "not happening" category.

"People who prior said don’t know are increasingly saying they don't believe it," said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which released the new results today (Jan. 16). [10 Climate Change Myths, Busted]

Climate opinion

Leiserowitz and his colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of 830 Americans in late November and into early December 2013. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The findings reveal that Americans' understanding of climate change is mixed.

For example, 42 percent of Americans correctly believe that most scientists agree that global warming is happening. Only 22 percent, however, know that more than 80 percent of climate scientists agree on that basic fact. The rest of the survey respondents perceive more disagreement than actually exists.

Forty-seven percent of Americans say that if global warming is happening, it is caused mostly by human activities. This is the belief backed up by the scientific evidence; in the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in September 2013, scientists agreed that it is "extremely likely" that human emissions of greenhouse gases are causing the planet to warm.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans reject this consensus, saying that climate change is most likely caused by natural fluctuations.

Shifting views

Media coverage surrounding the release of the IPCC report in September may be the explanation for the shift of more previously uncertain people into disbelieving climate change, Leiserowitz told LiveScience.

While the report made a strong case for human-caused climate change, most media coverage focused on the question of whether there has been a "pause" in global warming.

In fact, some research does show a slowdown in how fast temperatures are rising, if not a pause. Scientists theorize the slowdown could be the result of decades-long climate cycles playing out against a background of long-term warming.

But a study published online in November 2013 in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society suggests that even that slowdown may be an illusion, caused by gaps in temperature data.

Nevertheless, the media framing of the story may have contributed to more doubt among those who were not firm in their convictions, Leiserowitz said.

"Media frames can be really important in shaping the way people interpret the news," he said.

Many of the other responses in the survey showed little movement from April to November 2013. The proportion of Americans worried about global warming did not shift significantly.

The findings divide Americans into six distinct subsets. Sixteen percent are "alarmed," sure global warming is happening and concerned about it. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the "dismissive," who comprise about 15 percent of the public and who almost all see global warming as a conspiracy theory or hoax.

Changing either of these two groups' opinions about climate change is nearly impossible, Leiserowitz said.

The "doubtful," 12 percent of the public, are inclined to disbelieve climate change and may be difficult to convince, he said. Another 23 percent of the country is "cautious" — they believe climate change is happening, but are uncertain and tend to see the threat as distant.

The cautious are among the Americans most open to hearing the scientific evidence about climate change, Leiserowitz said. So are their neighbors, the disengaged, who make up about 5 percent of the public and who have given climate change little thought.

These are the groups that tend to rely on their own personal experiences, such as their feelings about the weather, to make judgments about whether climate change is happening. Recent research suggests that people draw on current temperatures to make climate change judgments because that information is concrete and easily accessible.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

MORE: Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals Rapidly-Changing Arctic

Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic

Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic

This series of photos, taken on an expedition to Greenland's North and South lake sites by a team from the University of Washington and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in July 2010, give an up-close view of how quickly the island's ice sheet is melting. (Photo by Ian Joughin PSC/APL/UW)

  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic
  • Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic

Ad Blocker Enabled

Featured Blogs

Darby Makes the Closest Pass to Honolulu by a Tropical Storm in Recorded History

By Dr. Jeff Masters
July 25, 2016

The closest approach on record by a tropical storm to the island of Oahu resulted in torrential rains in excess of ten inches there as Tropical Storm Darby passed just 40 miles to the south and west of Honolulu, Oahu on Sunday with sustained winds of 40 mph. No other named storm on record has passed that close to Honolulu or Oahu since accurate records began in 1949.

Hottest Reliably Measured Air Temperatures on Earth

By Christopher C. Burt
July 22, 2016

As Jeff Masters mentioned in his recent blog, a temperature of 54.0°C (129.2°F) was observed at Mitribah, Kuwait on July 21st. According to the Kuwait Meteorological Department this was the hottest temperature ever measured in the country (a reading of 54.4°C/129.9°F observed at the same site on July 16, 2010 has been disallowed as a result of a faulty sensor). The 54.0°C reading also is a new record for Asia and ties a similar reading at Death Valley (on June 30, 2013) as the hottest reliably measured temperature on Earth. The key word here is ‘reliably’. Many hotter temperatures have been reported from around the world in years past. However, all of these have credibility issues. In that vein I am going to revisit a blog I first posted on WU in October 2010 listing all the various claims to temperature readings at or above 54°C (129.2°F). In the years since I made that post I’ve learned more about some of these claims and have thus updated my entries and ‘validity’ scores as a result.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.