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.

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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.

Text © 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
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