Study shows most people trust climate scientists and would support national initiatives to increase awareness
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Americans have a basic understanding of climate change science, but many are still somewhat confused by the details, according to a new report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
An extensive survey showed that only one in 10 Americans consider themselves well-informed about climate change, and 75 percent say they’d like to know more. And there’s also a desire to learn more; 68 percent said they would welcome a national program to teach Americans more about the issue.
The Knowledge of Climate Change reports outlines what Americans understand about how the climate system works, and the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to global warming. Among other findings, the study identifies a number of important gaps in public knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change.
Overall, the Yale researchers found that 63 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, but many do not understand why.
If they were given a school-level test on climate change science, 52 percent of Americans would fail, and only 8 percent would get an A or B, while 40 percent would get a C or D.
The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system. These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that global warming is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks. Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society. For example, only:
• 57 percent know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat;
• 50 percent of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities;
• 45 percent understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface;
• 25 percent have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification.
Meanwhile, large majorities incorrectly think that the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans contribute to global warming, leading many to incorrectly conclude that banning aerosol spray cans or stopping rockets from punching holes in the ozone layer are viable solutions.
However, many Americans do understand that emissions from cars and trucks and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming, and that a transition to renewable energy sources is an important solution.
In addition, despite the recent controversies over “climategate” and the 2007 IPCC report, this study finds that Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming.