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America's Gut Feeling About Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, the fact is that most Americans don’t know the facts. A study by Yale professors revealed that while a majority (63 percent) of Americans believe in global warming, only half understand that it is anthropogenic (caused by human activity). And when the study tested the public on the science behind the warming, the results weren’t pretty.

On a straight grading scale, more than half of the population surveyed scored an F. Over three-quarters scored either a D or an F. Even once a curve was applied to account for the greater difficulty of some questions, two-thirds still received a C or below. Not exactly cum laude.

However, the study also revealed a surprise.

Despite the clear lack of public knowledge concerning the science behind global warming, most Americans do have a firm understanding of ways they can reduce their carbon footprint:

  • 75 percent knew that switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and driving electric cars instead of gas cars would decrease carbon emissions.
  • 81 percent knew that planting trees would help.
  • 73 percent knew that we should reduce tropical deforestation.
  • 76 percent knew that we should drive less.

So the question becomes this: if Americans know the solutions, should it be concerning that they don’t understand the problem?

As a matter of principle, I believe the answer is yes. Simple climate science should be incorporated into school curriculums and reliable facts should be completely and readily accessible. The young generation should be taught like it is. However, perhaps the Yale study is as encouraging as it is alarming.

The statistics show that even climate skeptics are familiar with practices that decrease their carbon emissions. If those practices were tied clearly and directly to things that a climate change skeptic cared dearly about—for example, their kid’s health (i.e. air pollution standards), homeland security (i.e. independence from foreign oil), or a stable job (i.e. investment in a sustainable economy)—then perhaps that skeptic might be persuaded to reduce their carbon footprint despite their disbelief. And at the end of the day, if they are acting sustainably, what’s the difference?

Climate skepticism is something that can and should be refuted. But for those who choose to remain willfully ignorant, the best solution is to bring the issues close to home.

Tags:  Climate Change