A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that many Americans doubt that global warming is occurring. Only 57% of respondents believe that “there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades,” as opposed to 71% in 2008. Further, only 35% view global warming as a “very serious” problem, down from 44% in 2008, and only 36% believe that global warming is human caused, whereas 47% believed this in 2008.
These results, if accurate, are alarming. There is very strong scientific evidence that the earth is warming. For example, numerous studies confirm that global average surface temperature has increased significantly over the past century (including the past “few decades”). Moreover, highly respected studies, such as those conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have found that it is almost certain that humans are contributing to such warming and that this warming poses very serious risks to human and non-human welfare.
What is the source of these misunderstandings and what should be done to address them? Do environmental activists simply need to work harder at educating those who may be uninformed about global warming and climate change? Unfortunately, the solution might not be so simple as mitigating ignorance. The same Pew poll found that beliefs about global warming are correlated to political affiliation, with 35% of Republicans, 53% of independents, and 75% of Democrats believing that there is strong evidence of global warming. If beliefs about global warming are influenced strongly by party affiliation, then educators and activists might need to confront more than mere ignorance about the facts of climate change.