American Opinion and Climate Change

“Thoughtful and informed”? Really? When was the last time you heard someone not wearing a tinfoil hat describing the American public as “thoughtful and informed”?

And yet…

Jon Krosnick is a professor at Stanford who studies Americans’ attitudes about hot-button issues. He’s surveyed opinions about climate change since 1995. As he points out, on most issues, voters are pretty evenly split;  so anything a candidate says will annoy about as many people as it pleases. There’s no net benefit. But that isn’t true of green points of view.

Many Americans, including people in Washington, do not realize how one-sided the public is on this. If they did, they would change their approach. I’ve been to Capitol Hill to talk to legislators and they’ve said: “You’re doing national surveys. I don’t think the people in my state feel that way.” So we’ve started looking at states and haven’t found a single state where a majority of residents are skeptical, but legislators think they are. West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas — even in those states, large majorities are expressing green points of view….

What we’ve found is about 80% of Americans — I never see 80% of Americans agreeing on anything when it comes to other issues, so this is very unusual — believe the federal government should limit greenhouse gas emissions by businesses and in particular by public utilities.

Krosnick did say that Fox News viewers tend to be an exception to this majority consensus–and noted that it is impossible to know whether that is because Fox misinforms its  audience, or because the audience is composed of individuals who choose to watch Fox in order to have pre-existing beliefs confirmed.

The next time James Inhofe throws a snowball in the Senate chambers to “prove” climate change is a myth, someone should tell him that a “thoughtful and informed” public has moved on. A long time ago.


  1. Keep you eye on the long term climate studies–
    not the 10 day weather forecast —
    nor James Inhofe

    All of us are to blame for our dependence on cheap dirty coal and oil over solar , wind and other alternative energy for the past 100 years. As Bob Dylan said “The Times They Are Achanging”
    If we can solve going to the Moon, reduce acid rain, protect the ozone layer, we can reduce significantly greenhouse gases worldwide .

  2. If studies like the one you have referred could be highlighted in the media as more newsworthy, it might wake up the politicians and nudge the public to fight more loudly for change to happen.

  3. Sheila, I just want to let you know that the change your son made has worked. This arrived in my inbox this morning. Thank you.

  4. No one disagrees that “climate change” is happening. It’s been going on ever since the planet formed. But is man a significant cause of global warming and is warming that results actually a threat? At best, there is only speculation that either of those is true. We shouldn’t destroy our environment over speculation.

  5. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

    Barack Obama

    When none of us knew Barack Obama it was I believe quotes like this that galvanized America into pro and con. We met him at a time when everything Republican was crashing down around us. Some of us welcomed the hope and rolled up our sleeves to do the work of change that he envisioned. Some of us reacted in horror that the system, our system, had been proven inadequate and a new system was proven necessary. One that would reshuffle the deck. One that could replace kings with deuces. One that might require us to think again.

    The worst of times for the Republican tribe. The worst of times for Rush Limbaugh’s tribe earning great riches selling American exceptionalism. The worst of times for entitled white straight Christian business men.

    The only card left to be played by Republicans was fear the change. They were left without accomplishments, without candidates, without hope. What could be done? Fear the future displaced worship the past, their time of privilege.

    Denying the truth of anthropogenic global warming was an easy card to play. It defined the future and held the past accountable. Their past. It was one of the compelling reasons for hope from our ability to change.

    It was a hard sell but business had perfected replacing real progress, only available from the difficult row to hoe of innovation, with advertising, the selling of illusions. And the threat of change could be spun into the greatest fear for the economic royalty most threatened by change, and they would surely fund the big sell.

    Now we are here. Some still ready for the work of change, some still hoping for the illusion that the past can save us. One has to say that from the narrow perspective of politics the GOP has pulled more success from their ruins than anybody thought possible. Success for them at the expenses of us. America. The world in fact.

    The globe is still warming obsoleting our civilization more every day. The bills for adapting to and recovering from the consequences of AGW are still mounting every day. The money for selling the illusion of fossil fuels is still rolling into Republican coffers every day. The part of our population that lives in the illusionary world of advertising is still bobble heading. We are still stuck at the fork between sustainable and temporary.

    And the promise of “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek” is still awaiting us.

  6. Paul, I wish there was a more effective way to say this but there is simply no evidence to support your wish for benign energy from fossil fuels. None. On the other hand the data that supports the scientific certainty of fossil fuel burning leading to increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations leading to global energy imbalance leading to increased average earthly temperature is mountainous. And the analysis that predicts ruinous consequences is merely the rigorous application of well known and established science. As certain as our ability to design and make planes that fly.

    Please do yourself a favor. Commit a few hours to studying my website,, and accept that others have expertise that you don’t, just as you have expertise that we don’t.

    The alternative is you continuing to be wrong.

  7. If the main stream media followed climate change like they did the Vietnam War, the country would finally take to the streets and demand significant carbon reductions NOW!

  8. My parents were farmers and believed it was their responsibility to be good stewards of the land, our well water supply, our home, and our bodies. They likened our bodies to God’s temple for which we must learn to care. They were disgusted when a vehicle in front of us spewed smoky exhaust for others to breathe. They disapproved of those who littered roadsides and our lawn. They cared about and for their neighborhood, neighbors and their children and property.

    When I was growing up, the term environmentalism was never heard, but in their own way and era, my family understood that those who polluted, littered, and failed to properly care for land and nearby streams made the environment less healthy, less attractive, and less productive for all the rest of us.

  9. This study is indeed good news and it needs to be widely disseminated. It’s time for our elected officials, both at the state and federal levels, to pay attention to their constituents and their views on this issue instead of big oil and all the other climate change deniers that pad their collective pockets and campaign coffers and work for a sustainable future for all of us. By making this a political football those that refuse to accept the evidence presented via hard scientific research have wasted extremely valuable time. There is more than enough evidence all around us to indicate that what we are seeing is not the result of one of the earth’s normal heating and cooling cycles but is something far more than that.

    Perhaps twenty years ago I sat in on a symposium on this topic down at IU Bloomington where a NASA climatologist indicated that by the time we start to see the effects of global warming it might be too late to turn things around. While I hope and pray that such an outcome isn’t the case what he said has stuck with me like glue. We don’t have the option of doing nothing about this problem, nor should we support politicians or political parties that refuse to even contemplate that it is real and that our continued reliance on fossil fuels isn’t contributing heavily to this problem. Easier said than done of course but, ultimately, we cannot afford to let that deter us.

    P.S. – Kudos to Pete on his thought provoking website.

  10. Many years ago, when my youngest son was about 10 years old; as I slowed for a Stop sign he tossed his soft drink can out the car window. I stopped, checked behind me and backed up telling him to pick up his can. He wanted to know “why, it is only 1 can…” I told him that all of the trash we pass on streets were only one thing one person threw away. He is 47 and still doesn’t litter. You can’t wait till someone reaches their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, etc., and begin teaching them at that age that all of those “only one thing” adds up to the conditions we see today. The plastic bottles that would surround the earth several times began as one thing tossed out. Or even in trash cans they become eventually hazardous to the environment because they are not biodegradable. Oil is used in the manufacture of plastics but…using paper bags kills trees. Long ago someone made famous the saying about Americans that, “We are a disposable society.” Look at all the packaging when you shop; too often they are used to prevent or deter theft but it all eventually becomes refuse that in some way effects the environment, adding to Global Warming adding to Climate Change. Simple things in our homes like turning off lights and TVs when we aren’t using them will cut down on emissions which we don’t see but IPL disburses into the environment and they are the biggest polluter in Indiana. I wonder how many of those public personages and elected officials who deny these issues, actually believe what they are saying or are they parroting Teabagger’s claims to keep the money flowing? As always with vital issues…follow the money.

  11. Protecting our environment is critical to our survival as a species. The population is growing at the rate of 75 million people a year worldwide. The rate at which resources are consumed and waste is produced will only get worse if we do not take meaningful steps to conserve and protect the earth, water and air.
    Making statements concerning climate change as a naturally recurrent event is missing the point entirely. The rate of change is this issue. Whether or not you think man is the cause of the increasing rate (see above for likely cause), the fact remains that we will all have to deal with the effects.

  12. Sheila, your son must be a genius. I received this blog in my email this morning, as well.
    Thank you. Your blogs are such a breath of progressive fresh air!

  13. All goods require matter from our non-replenishable stockpile to be converted from its natural form and eventually returned to nature in an unnatural form (except matter from life which is recycled). All goods and services consume energy which is received daily from the sun and returned to space to resume its endless travels (except for nuclear energy). There is no planet “B”.

  14. Good points, everyone! Many points spot-on! Best summation in five words? “There is no planet B.” For a fact, there isn’t. We need to take very good care of this one. Thanks, Sheila and all others here who hope we can save us from us!

  15. Based on the findings of the study, the time for debating whether the earth’s climate is changing has passed. It’s time for a federal policy creating funding at a functional level for the promotion and development of clean energy alternatives, followed by the commitment to large scale development of the best and most effective alternatives. Coal and petroleum have been and will continue to be cheaper energy sources as long as the energy producers can avoid the cost of dealing with the fallout from their consumption. The pace of new air and waste regulations have developed at a very slow pace, too slow to effectively eliminate the problems. The energy lobby has done a very good job of stalling change.

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