American acceptance of the problem of climate change and the need for action is growing rapidly. A New National Survey on Energy and the Environment (NSEE) from the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan shows acceptance of mainstream science near an all time high. For the first time since 2008, at least 7 out of 10 Americans indicate that they believe there is solid evidence of global warming over the past four decades. This increased level of acceptance of evidence of global warming coincides with the lowest percentage of Americans expressing doubt in solid evidence of global warming in the history of the NSEE.
Key findings of the study:
- More Americans than at any time since 2008 indicate that there is solid evidence of increasing temperatures on Earth with 70% of residents now maintaining that view. (Note that this number was 52% as recently as Spring 2010.) Similarly, a record low number of Americans (16%) say that there is not evidence of global warming.
- A majority of Republicans (56%) now believe that there is solid evidence of global warming, up from 47% a year ago, joining solid majorities of Democrats (79%) and Independents (69%). The number of Republicans who state there is no evidence of global warming has fallen from 41% to 26% in the last year.
- Americans who believe there is evidence of global warming are also increasingly confident in their belief, with a record 65% saying they are “very confident” in their appraisal.
- Severe drought across many parts of the United States has become the factor most cited by Americans as having a “very large” effect on their position that global warming is occurring. A record 61% of Americans who indicate there is evidence of global warming said severe droughts were having a very large effect on their belief. This number has more than doubled since Spring 2013.
- In previous NSEE surveys, large majorities of American who do not believe there is evidence of global warming have pointed to local weather observations as the basis for their position. In the Fall 2015 survey, however, more than a third (34%) of those doubtful of global warming said local weather observation has “no effect” on their views about climate change, the highest percentage in the history of the NSEE.
This dramatic shift in believes about warming has a number of implications for policy and political action:
- Climate change and policy change will take center stage in the next Presidential election. We have already seen Hillary Clinton adopt an aggressive approach to policy that promotes solar growth and against fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL, while Republicans like Jeb Bush have energy plans that only promote deregulation of fossil fuels without mention of renewables or global warming. It will be interesting to observe whether the Republican nominee is forced to move their positions as the general election approaches.
- On a local level, the opportunity to build community support for regulation of fossil fuel activities is increasing. This can have important implications for the efforts to establish citizen initiated zoning in Carbon and Stillwater counties.
- From November 30 – December 11, 2015, France will be hosting the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known as “Paris 2015.” COP21 is critical, because the nations of the world need to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.Failure to reach an aggressive agreement to curb carbon emissions will head the world down a dangerous path. Changes in US attitudes will enable President Obama to take a stronger leadership role in the conference. We’ll cover this session in greater detail as the time gets closer.
Dramatic changes in public attitudes toward climate change will force important policy shifts over the coming years. This should galvanize people to action. Change is in the wind.