Climate Change News

Climate Woes Real, Say Most in U.S., Canada, but Differ on Cause

Two new surveys find that although large majorities of Americans and Canadians think that global warming is happening, relatively few of them think humans are causing it.


Eighty-two percent of Canadians and 70% of Americans say there is solid evidence of global warming, according to two new surveys. However, those numbers do not constitute a consensus on the human influence on climate. Just 49% of Canadians and 27% of Americans believe that there is both solid evidence of global warming and that humans are its primary cause, say researchers who conducted the paired surveys.

The National Survey of Canadian Public Opinion on Climate Change and the National Survey on Energy and the Environment posed similar questions to Canadians and Americans in September 2015. The surveys were released on 13 October as part of a report, “Mind the Gap: Climate Change Opinions in Canada and the United States,” during a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

Policy Implications

Although many people think climate change is happening, the fact that not as many think it is caused primarily by humans “has enormous implications” for policy support to take action about global warming, said Christopher Borick with the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, who was involved with the U.S. survey.

The U.S. survey found that 56% of Republicans now believe there is evidence of global warming compared with 47% in fall 2014, whereas Republican climate skeptics fell to 26% from 41%. Among Democrats, 79% say there is evidence of global warming, compared with 71% in 2014; among Independents, the number increased to 69% from 57%, according the survey.

The surveys also found that less than 30% of Canadian and American respondents claim to have much knowledge about global warming.

“Nothing in our data to this day suggests that public opinion actually constitutes a pressure for government to act,” said Erick Lachapelle, a professor at the University of Montreal involved with the Canadian survey and earlier similar polls. “When you look beyond the 80% perception that there is solid evidence of global warming, you find actually quite a lot of skepticism even in Canada.”

Levels of Skepticism

Lachapelle said the skepticism falls into four categories: pure denial; “causal skepticism,” where people question the cause of global warming; “consequential skepticism,” where people don’t see a direct threat from global warming and thus are not motivated to take action; and “response skepticism,” where people doubt that anything can be done about global warming.

People who acknowledge global warming but attribute it to natural causes align more with climate-change skeptics than with individuals who consider it anthropogenically driven, Lachapelle added. “To lump them together, I think, is a major problem for those that want to claim consensus. They are different creatures.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), Climate woes real, say most in U.S., Canada, but differ on cause, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO038047. Published on 23 October 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
  • tolo4zero

    One of the big problems is the misrepresentation of the
    science .
    Case in point: Cook’s
    “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature”
    Right after this paper was released Obama tweeted “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.”

    Dangerous was never mentioned in the paper.

    The paper itself is a travesty of science, how it was ever accepted as a peer
    reviewed paper, makes one wonder what else passes as climate science.
    And one of the worlds most important men, misquotes it.
    Yet nobody corrects him.

    • michael smith

      you just did.
      Good work. Keep it up.

  • michael smith

    Air is 79% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen and .0034% Carbon Dioxide. Humans exhale carbon dioxide and plants absorb it. This is sixth-grade science.
    Governments looting taxpayers’ pockets to “lower carbon dioxide emissions” is an endeavour which is so clearly theft that any proponent is only comparable to a thug with a gun.

    • OFBG

      Nevertheless, the amount of CO2, and as a result the amount of heat retained, in the atmosphere has increased, and continues to do so since the beginning of the Industrial Era. Is this the sole, or even chief cause of global warming? Maybe not, but the same processes that pump CO2 into the air also produce other “greenhouse gases” – call them air pollution – and efforts to reduce them would be a good thing.
      Government regulations to “lower carbon dioxide emissions” would not directly loot the pockets of taxpayers, but would increase costs for us (passed on by business and industry). less pollution, however, would improve the quality of life for millions, perhaps billions, around the world.
      There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

  • OFBG

    There indeed is, and has been a difference between the “concensus” of scientists and that of non-scientists regarding climate change and its causes. The fact that this persists is an illustration of “doing the same thing again but expecting different results.” If we are to enlist the public in efforts to combat greenhouse-gas emissions, climate scientists have to change their approach.

    Instead of trying to “raise awareness” about climate change, we need to encourage people to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions regardless of their opinion about “global warming.” We used to call these emissions “air pollution,” and people did indeed rise to the occasion — if not voluntarily, then by law. Today in Los Angeles (as has been illustrated in EOS) you can look east and see the mountains; 30 years ago, you’d be lucky to see the tops of the buildings.

    We need to worry less about making true believers out of everyone than about persuading them to make lifestyle changes that will start the process of slowing down climate change. Clean air for us and our children is every bit as desirable a goal, and in the short term, a much more achievable one.

    • tolo4zero

      What has clean air to do with the science of co2 as a GHG You are you’re own worst enemies for creating skeptics.

      • OFBG

        Interesting. The reply that Disqus sent me was “What has clean air to do with the science of co2 as a GHG You are you’re own worst enemies for creating skeptics.”
        There are other greenhopuse gases besides CO2, and some contribute to what we would call “dirty air.” Likewise, many of the things we might do to reduce these pollutants will also reduce “carbon emissions.”
        Climate scientists are indeed their own worst enemies. By bickering over data points instead of creating a true “consensus” they give “deniers” points to contest. If, as our President maintains, “the science is settled,” let’s start acting like it.
        My point is that no one has to fully accept the evidence for global warming/climate change in order to do something about it. Give people an more immediate, demonstrably achieveable goal will get them to act sooner than continuing to “raise awareness” about the problem.

        • tolo4zero

          You make a good point, I originally misread your statement about clean air, and changed my comment