Thursday, January 28, 2010

Americans Increasingly Misinformed About Climate Change, With Dangerous Policy Implications


A new report from the Yale Project on Climate Change indicates that Americans' awareness about climate change is increasingly headed in the direction of fantasy.

Americans who believe that most scientists think global warming is happening decreased 13 points, to 34 percent, while 40 percent of the public now believes there is a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is happening or not.

Despite growing scientific evidence that global warming will have serious impacts worldwide, public opinion is moving in the opposite direction. Over the past year the United States has experienced rising unemployment, public frustration with Washington and a divisive health care debate, largely pushing climate change out of the news. Meanwhile, a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct may have contributed to an erosion of public trust in climate science.

It is also clear that public understanding of climate change fundamentals - that it is happening, is human caused, and will have serious consequences for human societies and natural ecosystems here in the United States and around the world - is heading in the wrong direction. These findings underscore the critical need for more and improved climate change education and communication.

The reality, of course, is that the world's best scientists had this to say in June 2009, in a joint statement of the National Academies of Sciences of the G8+5 Countries (literally the top scientists in each country -- the National Academies are like a scientific All-Star Team):

In a joint statement, the science academies of the G8 countries, plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa, called on their leaders to "seize all opportunities" to address global climate change that "is happening even faster than previously estimated." The signers, which include U.S. National Academy of Sciences President Ralph J. Cicerone, urged nations at the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks to adopt goals aimed at reducing global emissions by 50 percent by 2050. The academies also urged the G8+5 governments, meeting in Italy next month, to "lead the transition to an energy efficient and low carbon economy, and foster innovation and research and development for both mitigation and adaptation technologies."

Clearly, we've got some serious work to do to make sure voters in America are qualified to influence their politicians' decisions about climate change solutions.


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