Climate Change | Yale Opinion Study

Opinions of people in the United States about climate change range widely. Yale and George Mason Universities surveyed >22,000 people between 2008 and 2018 for the Climate Change in the American Mind project. The survey reveals a lot about beliefs, perceptions, support, and behavior across the country. You can compare your opinions with others in your state, congressional district, metro area, and county.

Funding for the study was provided by the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the Energy Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the MacArthur Foundation, the Overlook Foundation and the Endeavor Foundation.

Sample Findings

70% of the respondents agree global warming is happening

49% agree that most scientists think it is happening

70% believe it will harm future generations

41% say it is now harming them personally

79% think schools should teach about climate change

70% say environmental protection is more important than economic growth

Interactive Map

The study presents the data in an interactive map of the U.S. Continue reading below where you will find a video tutorial I made showing how to easily use the interactive features of the map. If you prefer to explore on your own, click the map image below to go directly to the study.

Above the interactive map at the web site are six labeled tabs giving more detailed info:

Opinion Maps | About | Methodology | Survey Questions | Data Download | FAQ

Respondents were asked 28 questions about their beliefs about climate change, what risks they perceive, what policies they would support, and how they behave regarding climate change. The methodology incorporated models to validate results nationally, statewide, by districts, metro areas and counties. General results of the >22,000 surveyed were compared to independent, representative state surveys conducted in California, Colorado, Ohio, Texas, and city level surveys in San Francisco, and Columbus, Ohio in 2013.

Tutorial for Map Navigation

This 9 min tutorial will save you time as you try to learn how the interactive behaves. There is a large amount of information available on a more granular level as you explore each question at state, district, metro, and county views.

What Do You Think?

Feedback about the study is welcome. How were your attitudes reinforced? Were you surprised by results from your part of the country? Do you feel more, or less, optimistic after seeing this? Some of the results made me feel more hopeful public opinion was on the right track. Others made me discouraged. Few of the responses surprised me. Many important issues are fraught with very large gulfs of disagreement when we should instead be focused on finding solutions. This issue isn’t going away on its own. It will continue to present the populations of the world with challenges. I’m not feeling very optimistic of our willingness to meet them and accept change. I would like to be proven wrong.

This from Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald…

28 thoughts on “Climate Change | Yale Opinion Study

  1. Excellent work. Even among those who accept climate change is real, there are those who have been programmed to first assert that it is 1) a natural phenomenon. 2) nothing can or should be done about it. The next level of research is to determine what will move their needle in the right direction.

    • It doesn’t appear that argument or persuasion is effective at changing minds. Maybe suffering from climate change related storms, floods and droughts would be more persuasive to the doubters. Trouble is, climate change is quite slow-moving. Fixing the damages we done will take decades or centuries even if we can all agree on the best courses of action.

  2. I can see CC with my own eyes and experience since I was young. First and last frost dates are a month different, winters are relatively milder, summers hotter and storms stronger.
    The thing is, given our collective addiction to our energy consumptive lifestyles, I can’t see folks giving that up. The US needs the equivalent of the Space Race to make the changes needed to even slow this thing down.

    • Right you are. I want to be optimistic. But, I don’t see it either. Your observations over the years are because you have paid attention to the world. Few people do that. It’s like paying no attention to your daily health and then wondering why you are sick and out of shape.

  3. Great tutorial and some of the results did surprise me. Having lived in California most my life I tend to follow those results. What surprised me most is that people are hearing about it on the news but still discredit the information. I’m not sure if the “fake news” issue has something to do with this or if much of the populace is unaware…meaning lacking the skills of basic observation over time…they don’t see. Sadly, lack of observation has had devastating results, not just in climate change. The rise of Hitler is one example.

    I was not surprised that areas of the country which used fossil fuels disregarded global warming…bread and butter being threatened…so to speak.

    I was disappointed that so many feel that education should not be done.

    Thanks for the presentation.

    • Thank you for those comments. I think you are correct in saying most people aren’t being observant. Those of us with a few years and who tend to watch nature have seen trends that are different than in the past.
      I think farmers in Iowa are seeing some changes in rainfall patterns. There are more intense rainfall rates.
      Yes, the education issue was disappointing. It seemed the more rural areas were lower on the issue.

      • In Florida, we are seeing a change in the rainy season patten. When I first arrived 10 years ago, it was in May. Now it is falling later and later. This year we had rainy days in the fall which used to be our dry months.

        • Weather always has change. More people are seeing the more subtle trends you describe. It requires paying attention to the long run patterns.

  4. I am stunned that over 70% of people believe it is happening and should be taught in schools. That correlates with the roughly 30% approval rating I saw for the orange one. I share your pessimism that we’ll accept change. What worries me are those who want to engineer our planet to absorb carbon, completely sidestepping the elegant solution Earth itself provides, in the shape of trees and prairie plants with their extremely deep roots.

    • I completely agree with you about the trees and plants. They evolved to cope with the levels of CO2 in the long history of earth. But, today we’ve jacked up that CO2 so high. Can trees and plants take care of it? We need them back and we need to do some engineering?

      • You bring up a good point. Many trees and forbs will suffer with ^ CO2. We’ll have to be mindful about that, and plant accordingly, as some species will be thrive under these new conditions. Also, there are some species that should probably be planted north of where they currently are.
        Engineering the planet scares me because we really have no way of knowing what the unintended consequences will be. We can be sure, however, that there will be some and they will likely be worse than people might think. Won’t it cause earthquakes, and disrupt our groundwater, contaminating it? I feel it would be better to stay the course of switching our energy to wind and solar and let the CO2 subside gradually.

    • Your solution is similar to many who take the tack that given our uncertainty as to the severity of future impacts that we don’t have to be alarmist in our approach to solutions. And it could be right, but consider that solutions you describe are based on a temperature and CO2 change that is commensurate with rates produced from natural climate variation. Jim is a little incorrect in being concerned about the amount of CO2, as the more important factor is the rate in which it has increased and the rate in which the temperature seems to be increasing as a result. During the Carboniferous period there were concentration 50% higher in CO2 than we have today and there was a lot of plant life as a result. The average temperature was 20 C. However the time it took to reach those levels was much longer. Consider that in the middle of that same geologic period the average temperature dropped to 12 C. While a huge temperature change (which still led to minor high extinction rate) happened over 30 million years. The magnitude of temperature change we’re experiencing now is 26,000 times greater than during that period, and we know that what we are seeing now is 7-10 faster than anything we can measure from the geologic past.

      It can’t hurt to try green solutions like you describe, but we also have to be prepared for the fact that it may make little difference given the rate in which carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere. The Earth simply isn’t accustomed to adjusting to temperature changes this quickly. When abrupt temperature changes have happened in the geologic past it has led to mass extinctions.

      • whenever humans tinker with the planet, it always ends in tears. If we want to tinker, let’s start with ourselves~how about controlling our population for starters? That would go a long way to cooling things off. We can (and are) studying which species can thrive in warmer temperatures, and planting them. Roof gardens in cities provide tremendous cooling as well as providing food in food deserts.
        In my county alone, over the 40 years I’ve been here, I’ve watched tens of thousand of acres go from wetland habitat to pavement, much of it completely needless. Miles of parking lot, acres of now -empty stores. All that concrete, all those roofs raise the temperature. Just breaking it back up and planting something, anything, would cool the temperature. It is ourselves, and how we organize our civilization in relation to the natural world, that is creating this dire situation. Therefore it is ourselves and our structure that needs to be adjusted. Not the planet.

        • Well said Melissa. I think that even the issues you bring up don’t have to be only addressed from a personal choice stand point there are also legislative solutions. Want to reduce population, investing in education, providing quality sex education, and free access to birth control radically reduces birth rates. Not to mention promoting gender equality not only here but around the world gives women options besides raising children. Humans don’t really want to have tons of babies when there are plenty of other choices in life to give it meaning.

          And yes the urbanization, especially of wetlands and grasslands leads to massive urban sprawl. You’ll be happy to know that the impact on overall warming by the urban heat island effect is minimal, but there are many other practical reasons not to destroy prairie in wetlands. The extreme flooding in Houston is a good example. It was made far worse by the rapid expansion of Houston destroying natural drainage patterns. What climate change does do is increases the likelihood of extreme precipitation events and the urban sprawl simply increases the vulnerability of large populations to the impacts of flooding. Not to mention the destruction of ecosystems. There is a tendency to preserve ecosystems in hilly and mountainous areas but prairies are simply seen as something that can justifiably be destroyed. That’s really not a good way at it.

        • I agree.f It sounds like you are experiencing the same thing we are here in terms of foolish development.

  5. Very interesting results. I am a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science who now is more interested in how we might communicate the message most effectively as charts and graphs of facts about the atmosphere don’t seem to be doing too much anymore.

    I guess I was surprised particularly by the result that only 49% of respondents think that most scientists agree that it is happening. I guess it’s worrying that A) a lot of people misunderstand the degree of consensus for those who study the problem and B) That there are more people think it’s happening despite the fact that they don’t think that there is scientific consensus on the problem. I mean I’m glad that there is growing concern, but I would like to live in a society where that growing concern was in proportion to the percentage of scientists who conclude that it is happening based on their research as opposed to growing concern despite their perception of consensus. If that makes any sense.

    I also think that it’s interesting that 70% of the people say it’s more important than economic growth. If we play it smart I don’t see why we still can’t maintain both. At least it’s not clear that it’s an A or B scenario. I think it’s also important to recognize that doing nothing might work for short term growth, but given the costs of addressing the issue when it’s too late will lead to serious economic hardship. Of course the wealthy see that as someone else’s problem after they are gone, but I think we have a moral responsibility not only to those of us separated by space, but also by time.

    • Hi. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Your background and perspectives are appreciated.

      I’m also troubled by the figures you quoted on that disparity between 70% who think change is taking place and 49% think scientists don’t agree. The general public doesn’t understand how science is done. They see examples of assumptions by scientists being proven wrong. That somehow confirms their notions that science is a failure for not being right all the time. In addition, their attitudes are eroded by the likes of those who I think of as conservative and fundamentalist, Fox news, right wing talk shows, etc. They have powerful messaging tools 24/7.

      • It’s fairly well documented that oil companies have used similar tactics that cigarette companies used in the 70s to convince the public that the science was split on the health impacts of smoking. This is to pay some scientist loosely related to the field a lot of money to come out against the scientific consensus. Make lots of TV appearances and make it seem like a 50/50 issue. Less biased sources of news haven’t done a much better job at accurately portraying and sort of fall into the trap of saying, well we want to appear balanced by having these alternate views, but when it just one person against the other, I don’t think people get how much of the weight of the argument is on one side compared to another.

        It’s also just an extremely complex issue, and easy problem to exploit people’s ignorance. The snowball by Imhofe in congress is the proof right there. So many Republicans believe that this was some sort of actual evidence refuting the claim of scientists. We simply can’t afford to have that level of ignorance on the subject and yet that is one of the simpler concepts to get (i.e. the difference between weather and climate).

        Where Republicans have been most successful in their message is making this seem like an ideological issue between left and right. And democrats actually have fallen into that trap laid for them. Granted Al Gore’s video, while well-intentioned didn’t really help matters. Of course it has to become a political issue because ultimately the change we need requires some sort of legislation and international cooperation. Where politics should lie in this issue is in regards to what to do about it. There are fiscally conservative solutions which may quite effective. Honestly I think that democrats need to start introducing more legislation to address this problem but take on fiscally conservative solutions. Solutions that stimulate research and development, that stimulate job growth in the green energy sector, and also address the problem of trying to train people for new careers. If democrats could show that level of entrepreneurship and care about workers losing their jobs in fossil fuels and needing to move elsewhere I think they could get more votes.

        Sorry for the long response!

        • Don’t be sorry. I really appreciate it. The distortion claiming that there is equal disagreement by both sides was addressed in a podcast by Sean Carroll Mindscape. The guest talked a lot about the tobacco industry making similar claims. Episode 32: Naomi Oreskes on Climate Change and the Distortion of Scientific Facts

        • This is the second time in the span of a few days that Sean Carroll’s podcast has intersected into my blogosphere, I think that’s a sign I need to start to listen. Thank you for the recommendation!

        • His career is in physics. He has started a blog of podcast interviews with some very interesting guests. The interviews are in depth and well done.

    • I’m happy to see your expert comments, all of which I agree with. I see the issue of climate change as one that may well decide whether the human species deserves to survive or to become extinct, (ref: Carl Sagan.)

      • It is definitely a problem that requires us to think on temporal and spatial scales we aren’t used to, and to think beyond our tribal nature to deal with the problem. I don’t know if I necessarily see extinction as the conclusion, but certainly vast amounts of unneeded suffering and loss of diversity and beauty. The recovery time will be on geologic time scales.

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