Shaping US Public Opinion on Climate Change

Who are the opinion makers on climate change?  In the US, it is the meteorologists, or TV weathermen, followed by politicians.

Faith in meteorologists has increased since the days when the public considered weather forecasting was intelligent guesswork.  With this greater faith comes a disposition by viewers to accept what TV weathermen say about climate change.

Scientists recognize the difference between climate and weather, but at a popular level there is uncertainty.  This uncertainty exists in part because a stong majority of US TV weathermen are denialists when it comes to climate change.

A newly launched website, Forecast the Facts (The Facts) has highlighted the seriousness of that situation.  According to The Facts, 63% of meteorologists don’t think climate change is caused by GHG emissions and a full 27% think global warming is a scam.  These opinions seem well-entrenched to the point that the industry association, the American Meteorological Society, delayed releasing an overdue update on climate change to replace a 2007 statement.

As for politicians, James Inhofe, the Republican Senator from Oklahoma, considers that the global warming is a hoax.  Inhofe is likely to head the Senate Committee on the Environment if the Republicans maintain their majority in this year’s elections.  With one insignificant exception, the Republican candidates for the 2012 Presidential nomination did not recognize climate change as a problem.

President Obama has not spoken consistently and forcefully about the need to limit GHG emissions.  Quite recently the President spoke at a plant that make blades for wind turbines, an important renewable energy source.  He did not mention “pollution,” “climate change,” “greenhouse gases,” “carbon,” or “global warming. If politicians don’t consider it necessary to emphasize the problem, what will voters conclude?

So it is that, up to now, US public opinion on climate change is undecided, shifting a few percentage points this way or that way. According to a very recent study by Yale University, belief that the climate is changing is up 3% to 66% from six months ago. (A not-surprising result considering the weird weather North America experienced last “winter”.)  Yet the percentage of those who believe climate change is caused by GHG emissions has dropped by 4%.   As the climate experience has forced a change of belief, many people perhaps seek an explanation that justifies “business as usual” without a troubled conscience.

This Yale Study also came up with some findings that suggest scientists may not be able to lead the public to accept the reality of climate change in time.  It stated:

“Since November, however, there has been a 6 point decrease (to 35%) in the proportion of Americans who believe that most scientists think global warming is happening, with a 2 point increase (to 41%) in those who believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists.”

In other words up to now the “science is not settled” mantra has allowed many US citizens to remain secure in their scepticism.


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