Americans’ Global Warming Concerns Continue to Drop

Gallup logo I think Gallup's intro speaks for itself – "Gallup's annual update on Americans' attitudes toward the environment
shows a public that over the last two years has become less worried
about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are
already happening, and more likely to believe that scientists
themselves are uncertain about its occurrence." We have a lot of work to do.

Posted Mar. 11, 2010

By Frank Newport, Gallup

Gallup's annual update on Americans' attitudes toward the environment
shows a public that over the last two years has become less worried
about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are
already happening, and more likely to believe that scientists
themselves are uncertain about its occurrence. In response to one key
question, 48% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global
warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41% in 2009 and 31% in 1997,
when Gallup first asked the question.
Gallup1

These results are based on the annual Gallup Social Series
Environment poll, conducted March 4-7 of this year. The survey results
show that the reversal in Americans' concerns about global warming that
began last year has continued in 2010 — in some cases reverting to the
levels recorded when Gallup began tracking global warming measures more
than a decade ago.

For example, the percentage of Americans who now say reports of
global warming are generally exaggerated is by a significant margin the
highest such reading in the 13-year history of asking the question. In
1997, 31% said global warming's effects had been exaggerated; last
year, 41% said the same, and this year the number is 48%.

Fewer Americans Think Effects of Global Warming Are Occurring

"In a sharp turnaround from what Gallup
found as recently as three years ago, Americans are now almost evenly
split in their views of the cause of increases in the Earth's
temperature over the last century."

Many global warming activists have used film and photos of melting
ice caps and glaciers, and the expanding reach of deserts, to drive
home their point that global warming is already having alarming effects
on the earth. While these efforts may have borne fruit over much of the
2000s, during the last two years, Americans' convictions about global
warming's effects have waned.

A majority of Americans still agree that global warming is real, as
53% say the effects of the problem have already begun or will do so in
a few years. That percentage is dwindling, however. The average
American is now less convinced than at any time since 1997 that global
warming's effects have already begun or will begin shortly.

Meanwhile, 35% say that the effects of global warming either will
never happen (19%) or will not happen in their lifetimes (16%).

The 19% figure is more than double the number who held this view in 1997.

Gallup2

Fewer See Global Warming as Serious Threat

In similar fashion, the percentage of Americans who believe that
global warming is going to affect them or their way of life in their
lifetimes has dropped to 32% from a 40% high point in 2008. Two-thirds
of Americans say global warming will not affect them in their lifetimes.

Gallup3

The shift in these views during the past two years has been
particularly striking. The percentage who said global warming would
pose a serious threat increased gradually from 1997 through 2008. The
trend in these responses changed course last year, with slightly fewer
Americans saying global warming would have a significant effect in
their lifetimes. This year, that percentage is down even more, marking
a six-point drop from 2009, and roughly similar to where it was nine
years ago.

Americans Divided on Causes of Global Warming

In a sharp turnaround from what Gallup found as recently as three
years ago, Americans are now almost evenly split in their views of the
cause of increases in the Earth's temperature over the last century.

Gallup4

In 2003, 61% of Americans said such increases were due
to human activities — in line with advocates of the global warming
issue — while 33% said they were due to natural changes in the
environment. Now, a significantly diminished 50% say temperature
increases are due to human activities, and 46% say they are not.

Americans Less Sure About Scientists' Beliefs

Since last fall, there have been widespread news accounts of
allegations of errors in scientific reports on global warming and
alleged attempts by some scientists to doctor the global warming record.

These news reports may well have caused some Americans to
re-evaluate the scientific consensus on global warming. Roughly half of
Americans now say that "most scientists believe that global warming is
occurring," down from 65% in recent years. The dominant opposing
thesis, held by 36% of Americans, is that scientists are unsure about
global warming. An additional 10% say most scientists believe global
warming is not occurring.

Gallup5

The percentage of Americans who think most scientists believe global
warming is occurring has dropped 13 points from two years ago, and is
the lowest since the first time Gallup asked this question back in 1997.

Implications

The last two years have marked a general reversal in the trend of
Americans' attitudes about global warming. Most Gallup measures up to
2008 had shown increasing concern over global warming on the part of
the average American, in line with what one might have expected given
the high level of publicity on the topic. Former Vice President Al Gore
had been particularly prominent in this regard, with the publication of
his bestselling book, "An Inconvenient Truth," an Academy Award-winning
documentary movie focusing on his global warming awareness campaign,
and Gore's receipt of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

But the public opinion tide turned in 2009, when several Gallup measures showed a slight retreat in public concern about global warming. This year, the downturn is even more pronounced.

Some of the shifts in Americans' views may reflect real-world
events, including the publicity surrounding allegations of scientific
fraud relating to global warming evidence, and — perhaps in some parts
of the country — a reflection of the record-breaking snow and cold
temperatures of this past winter. Additionally, evidence from last year
showed that the issue of global warming was becoming heavily partisan
in nature, and it may be that the continuing doubts about global
warming put forth by conservatives and others are having an effect. A
forthcoming analysis here at Gallup.com will examine shifts in global
warming attitudes in recent years among various demographic and
political groups.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of
1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2010.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say
with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4
percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones
(for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for
respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical
difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the
findings of public opinion polls.

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