Despite overwhelming physical evidence of anthropogenic climate change, and a definite of majority (97 percent) of scientists who agree that human activities are causing the climate to change, in the latest poll from the Pew Research Center found that the number of Americans who believe in climate change, particularly Republicans, has decreased dramatically since 2006.
In 2006, 79 percent of Americans believed there was evidence of global warming and 50% said it was caused by human activity. 61 percent felt it required immediate action. 59 percent said scientists agreed that the cause was human activity. Only 29 percent said that scientists did not agree.
Now in 2010, 59 percent of American adults believe that there is evidence that the planet has been warming over the past decades, and 34 percent state that it is mostly caused by human activity. 32 percent see global warming as a serious problem, while 31 percent think it is somewhat serious. The public is also divided as to whether scientists themselves are in agreement that the planet is warming as a result of human activity - only 44 percent say that scientists agree, and 44 percent say that they do not.
While 80 percent of Democrats and a majority of independents state that there is solid evidence of climate change, with 34 percent believing that it is a result of human activities only 53 percent of Republicans say that there is no evidence of climate change whatsoever.
70 percent of those Republicans who were on board with the Tea Party movement were “much more likely…to say there is no solid evidence,” and “do not think that the earth’s temperature has been rising.” (Of the Republicans who are not aligned with the Tea Partiers, only 38 percent hold this view.) 50 percent of the Tea Partiers do not see global warming as any sort of problem and 71 percent believe that scientist do not agree as to whether or not human activity is the cause of global warming.
Climate change: Evidence and perception diverge
This all during a year of climate disasters, of extreme weather - record breaking temperatures, heat waves, floods, and droughts. In the past century, sea level has risen 4 to 10 inches, and glaciers and ice caps are melting at unprecedented rates. On the Antarctic Peninsula, 90 percent of the glaciers are in retreat, and winter temperatures have soared by 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Habitats are shifting and seasonal cycles are changing, endangering countless species of plants and animals.
NOAA has reported that planet has been warming significantly, a full 1 degree Fahrenheit, over the last 50 years, that each of the past three decades was warmer than the last, and the 2000s is the warmest decade in recorded history. According to NASA, 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded.
Furthermore, the current level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere — about 390 parts per million — is higher today than at any time in measurable history — at least the last 2.1 million years.
So, as the evidence has become alarmingly apparent year after year, why are the numbers of Americans who believe in climate change decreasing? When even prior climate change deniers poster boys Bjorn Lomberg and Fran Luntz have seen the light - or rather the heat.
Granted, the economy has taken its toll. These days, when countless Americans are focused on how to keep or get a job, concerned with how to feed their families, any other threats, especially those that are not immediately in one’s face, do not seem so urgent or significant. Moreover, the changes due to global warming are gradual, subtle, and much more pronounced in regions like Antarctica, where most Americans never go, much less even think about.
As Fen Montaigne writes:
“If such profound changes (those occurring at the Antarctica peninsula) had come to our temperate zones over the last few decades – if average winter temps in New York City had soared a dozen degrees, if our oaks and maples were being replaced by palms, if sea levels had risen half a dozen feet – chances are the public would not be so indifferent to our warming world and many politicians would not be denying that climate is changing because of human activity.”
A tipping point?
And yet, they are. Have we reached the political tipping point in regards to climate change? Has the intensely divisive nature of our two party system, created two separate and not necessarily equal Americas? Even the news media is now as divided, and in parroting their own party line, they relay completely different views of the issues, of the world, of reality altogether.
A Yale/George Mason University poll released this past summer found similar results whereas a large number of those who considered themselves conservative, and/or part of the Tea Party movement, were either doubtful or dismissive about global warming, and those who considered themselves alarmed or concerned identified themselves as Democrats or liberals. This poll also revealed that the news media consumed by those considered “alarmists” and those “dismissive” regarding climate change, were completely different – i.e. Fox News or MSNBC.
That said, what one may deduce from these polls is that Americans overall are NOT ignorant nor apathetic when it comes to climate change – only some, maybe half, of us, and mostly the Tea Party members of the Republican party. That’s the good news. The bad news, well, it is those Republicans, who as of this past Fall, have completely changed our political landscape, which may just have a direct effect upon our cultural, and our physical landscape, as well.
According to the blog Think Progress, 50 percent of the freshmen Republicans entering Congress “deny the existence of manmade climate change, while a shocking 86 percent are opposed to any legislation to address climate change and increases government revenue. Meanwhile, all of the Republicans vying to chair the House Energy Committee — which handles climate and energy issues — in the new Congress are climate change deniers,” including longtime climate denier, and BP apologist, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).
Nevertheless, though opinions about and reactions to climate change are in stark contradiction between party lines, we all still live on the same planet, like it or not. When the seas and rivers rise, and the heartland turns to dust bowls, when the winter and summers are nearly intolerable, these effects will not vary between red states and blue states. Just because you don’t believe doesn’t mean it will not affect you – nor your grandchildren – nor theirs.
So here we are. In the worst recession since the 1930s, with an economy and infrastructure that desperately needs an influx of jobs, of which green jobs and a green economy is a perfect fit. Right as the UN Conference on climate change has begun; right as the moratorium on deepwater drilling has been lifted. At the brink of another year, another decade, where (some) Americans continue to hide their heads in the sands, or rather tar pits, and may just continue to do so for further decades, and generations to come. While China, and soon other countries, has quickly overtaken us in research and development, emerging as the pioneers in green technology and the green market, leaving us literally in the dust.