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A. Siegel

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A Bipartisan Understanding of Basic Climate Reality?

Posted: 02/29/2012 1:46 pm

Despite the panoply of Republican political elite suffering from acute anti-science syndrome (Santorum, Gingrich, Inhofe), a basic reality:

A majority of Americans (including a plurality of Republicans) understand that climate deniers are deceivers and disconnected from reality.

Earlier today, the Brookings Institution released Belief in Global Warming on the Rebound: National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change. This graphic shows, quite clearly, the reason for the title.

Three major points before delving deeper:
  • To be clear, the title of the report and the subtitle of Figure 1 is simply wrong. Science is not about belief. Look at the question: "Is there solid evidence that the ... Earth has gotten warmer?" Isn't that a yes/no question related to an understanding of fact and what is happening in the real world ("the scientific evidence") rather than an affirmation of belief in, for example, God? As Dr Vicky Hope put it so well
"When climate scientists like me explain to people what we do for a living we are increasingly asked whether we "believe in climate change". Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence that humanity's activities are leading to changes in our climate. The scientific evidence is overwhelming."
  • This report and this polling isn't exactly 'news' on a number of fronts. It is well in line with polling from a year ago and from last fall.
  • We need to remember that is is impressive that, by more than a two-to-one margin, Americans understand this basic fact about the planet in the face of flat-earth promoting political "leaders" like those named above.
The table provides the perspective by party affiliation and race and, well, yes, there is a serious political divide with the vast majority of self-identified Democrats residing in the warming reality-based world. Notable, however, with a presidential nominee choice between a denier ... and a denier ... and a confused science distorter/avoider ... and ... even a solid plurality of self-identified Republicans know that "there [is] solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warming."

Understanding of evidence of climate change by selected demographic categories

Group

Solid Evidence

Not Solid Evidence

Not Sure

Democrat

78%

15%

7%

Republican

47%

42%

11%

Independent

55%

30%

15%

White

64%

26%

10%

Non-White

60%

27%

14%

Male

58%

30%

12%

Female

66%

22%

12%

College Degree

60%

27%

13%

No College Degree

66%

26%

11%

NSAPOCC2011

To be clear, this work is rather limited. The first step of moving from denial to action is recognizing that the planetary system is warming. Then there is the question of causation. It seems almost certain that the numbers re understanding of the scientific understanding of humanity's significant contribution to the warming would be less than the percentage understanding that the planet is warming.

Even so, there is something quite disturbing to consider within the Brookings polling. As Chris Mooney put it:


And here's the thing: Of the deniers--Democrat or Republican, but mostly Republican--81 percent also think that "scientists are overstating evidence about global warming for their own interests." That's a finding I've never seen before--and a very disturbing one.

"Disturbing one" on multiple levels.

To believe that "scientists are overstating evidence" is, by any stretch of the imagination, an anti-science attitude. Science is at the core of modern life -- creating opportunities and problems, improving understanding, etc ... -- and to have such deep anti-science attitudes even about one arena of science creates serious questions about overall scientific understanding and respect for the scientific process.

And, this anti-science attitude highlights that science is -- sadly -- an increasingly partisan issue. Again, back to Chris:

There was a time when I could argue that everybody's basically pro-science -- it's just that Republicans reject it on a few pet issues. Now, though, I'm not so sure. The kinds of sentiments being expressed in these surveys suggest that trust in science itself is becoming partisan.

Roughly one in six of those polled believe that the scientific community is engaged in a global conspiracy to distort science when it comes to climate change. Such a fundamental disdain for the scientific community and scientists in terms of their ethics and professional standards cannot be called anything other than anti-science.

 

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