Why Americans Stopped Believing in Global Warming

Pundits wonder why polls find increasing public skepticism about the existence climate change

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Columnists expected a robust debate over the climate change bill in the Senate. What they did not foresee, however, was that Americans would begin to doubt the existence of climate change altogether. According to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans believed that the earth was warming in 2006. Only 57 percent of Americans do so in 2009. Slightly mystified, commentators think the poll bodes poorly for the cap and trade bill and climate change legislation. Why did the public come to doubt global warming?

  • Blame the Right At Think Progress, Matthew Yglesias says conservatives are getting frighteningly good at playing with facts. "Pew reports that the right is having a great deal of success in trying to mislead people about climate change." Yglesias argues the disbelief isn't as non-partisan as the Pew poll suggests. "The header Pew put on the graphic notes that the decline is 'across party lines.' But you should look at the magnitudes--the Republican line has fallen way further, and from a lower base, than the Democratic line. This is probably a rationalizing voter example where increased salience of the issue is bringing more Republicans into line with the beliefs espoused by their party's leaders."
  • Bad Economy, Bad Timing At The Atlantic, Chris Good puts his money on the politics of recession. "Most of that opposition has centered around the cost of cap-and-trade, rather than the science behind climate change--though it's possible that anti-cap-and-trade messaging has led Americans to view the cost of the policy as a cost of belief in climate change." He also notes, however, that the climate change lobby has botched their pitch and allowed the debate to be dominated by the tea-party-like opposition. "In 2009, cap-and-trade has been met with harsh resistance--from Republicans, business groups, and conservative activists like those at FreedomWorks, which made cap-and-trade a big part of its summer agenda. With Democrats preoccupied by health care, there appears to be a more organized messaging effort against cap-and-trade than for it."
  • Feels Chilly to Me At Townhall, Meredith Jessup doesn't advance any Democratic conspiracy theories, but she does argue that Americans are smart enough to look at their weather forecast:
Maybe people who responded to the Pew poll caught last weekend's Washington Post report: 'Something happened in Washington on Friday that had not occurred in 138 years of weather history: For the first time since the National Weather Service began compiling daily data here, the high temperature for Oct. 16 was below 50 degrees.' Couldn't any of these little bits of info contrary to the theory that exist out there put at least a little doubt in someone's mind about global warming?
  • Actually, Climate Change Is Real John Timmer of Ars Technica says researchers warn that while the public may be skeptical of global warming, there is near consensus in the scientific community that the phenomenon is very real.
A collection of 18 US scientific organizations has sent an open letter to members of the Senate, reminding them that climate change is a real phenomenon, and the best available evidence indicates it's being driven by human activities. The unusually blunt language is coupled with an offer: the US scientific community stands ready to provide assistance to anyone who is looking for further information in advance of taking legislative action.
  • The Public's Opinion Here Is, Frankly, Irrelevant Will, at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, says the government knows climate change is real, and must act to stop it now. Period. "Look, I think cap-and-trade is bad policy on the merits. But global warming is a) a real problem and b) deserves a serious response. I am also baffled by the idea that a survey of non-experts (namely, the American public) should determine whether we take climate change seriously."
  • It's Ideological Professor Mike Hume, of the University of East Anglia School of Environmental Sciences in Britain talks to The New York Times's Green Inc. blog about why the world disagrees on climate change. Hume says there are "ideologically different ways of approaching solutions," and adds that "those are difficult differences to reconcile." In order to make progress, Hume thinks a change of tactics is in order. "We've painted ourselves into a corner with these negotiations. Even now, I'm hearing from the environmental advocates that they're resigned that COP isn't going to produce anything. There's a real mood of despair, almost, that it isn't going to deliver. So I think we need to move out of that kind of negotiating framework."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.