Americans Warming Up to Climate Change

A new survey shows Americans increasingly link weather disasters to global warming.Happy Earth Day. It seems after the past year of harsh weather, a majority of Americans now believe climate change is really happening.

A poll released this week shows, according to The New York Times, “that a large majority of Americans believe this year’s unusually warm winter, last year’s blistering summer and some other weather disasters were probably made worse by global warming. And by a 2-to-1 margin, the public says the weather has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years.”

Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communications, along with researchers from George Mason University, sponsored the survey, which was conducted by Knowledge Networks. More than 1,000 American adults were surveyed by computer in the last half of March, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“The survey, the most detailed to date on the public response to weather extremes, comes atop polling showing a recent uptick in concern about climate change.” the Times reported. “Read together, the polls suggest that direct experience of erratic weather may be convincing some people that the problem is no longer just a vague and distant threat.”

The poll suggests that:

A solid majority of the public believes that global warming is real. “When invited to agree or disagree with the statement, “global warming is affecting the weather in the United States,” 69 percent of respondents in the new poll said they agreed, while 30 percent disagreed.”

• One quarter of respondents “strongly agree” recent warm weather was affected by climate change. “Asked whether they agreed or disagreed that global warming had contributed to the unusually warm winter just past, 25 percent of the respondents said they strongly agreed that it had, and 47 percent said they somewhat agreed. Only 17 percent somewhat disagreed and 11 percent strongly disagreed.”

• A majority believes global warming caused the 2011 heat wave. “Majorities almost as large cited global warming as a likely factor in last year’s record summer heat wave, as well as the 2011 drought in Texas and Oklahoma. Smaller but still substantial majorities cited it as a factor in the record U.S. snowfalls of 2010 and 2011 and the Mississippi River floods of 2011.”

More than one-third say they were directly affected by bad weather. “One of the more striking findings was that 35 percent of the public reported being affected by extreme weather in the past year. The United States was hit in 2011 by a remarkable string of disasters affecting virtually every region, including droughts, floods, tornadoes and heat waves.”’

The survey’s results are encouraging for a large majority of climate scientists. They say the “climate is shifting in ways that could cause serious impacts, and they cite the human release of greenhouse gases as a principal cause,” said the Times.

That’s contrary to views held by a tiny, vocal minority of researchers who contest that view, the Times added.

“Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” said Anthony A. Leiserowitz of Yale University, one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

Leiserowitz also said that past surveys showed people tended to see the climate change problem as “distant in time and space – that this is an issue about polar bears or maybe Bangladesh, but not my community, not the United States, not my friends and family,” the Times reported.