Multiple indicators show less concern, more feelings that global warming is exaggerated
by Frank Newport, Gallup News
PRINCETON, NJ — Gallup’s annual update on Americans’ attitudes toward the environment shows a public that over the last two years has become less worried about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are already happening, and more likely to believe that scientists themselves are uncertain about its occurrence. In response to one key question, 48% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41% in 2009 and 31% in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question.
These results are based on the annual Gallup Social Series Environment poll, conducted March 4-7 of this year. The survey results show that the reversal in Americans’ concerns about global warming that began last year has continued in 2010 — in some cases reverting to the levels recorded when Gallup began tracking global warming measures more than a decade ago.
For example, the percentage of Americans who now say reports of global warming are generally exaggerated is by a significant margin the highest such reading in the 13-year history of asking the question. In 1997, 31% said global warming’s effects had been exaggerated; last year, 41% said the same, and this year the number is 48%.
Americans Divided on Causes of Global Warming
In a sharp turnaround from what Gallup found as recently as three years ago, Americans are now almost evenly split in their views of the cause of increases in the Earth’s temperature over the last century.
In 2003, 61% of Americans said such increases were due to human activities — in line with advocates of the global warming issue — while 33% said they were due to natural changes in the environment. Now, a significantly diminished 50% say temperature increases are due to human activities, and 46% say they are not.
Americans Less Sure About Scientists’ Beliefs
Since last fall, there have been widespread news accounts of allegations of errors in scientific reports on global warming and alleged attempts by some scientists to doctor the global warming record.
These news reports may well have caused some Americans to re-evaluate the scientific consensus on global warming. Roughly half of Americans now say that “most scientists believe that global warming is occurring,” down from 65% in recent years. The dominant opposing thesis, held by 36% of Americans, is that scientists are unsure about global warming. An additional 10% say most scientists believe global warming is not occurring.
The percentage of Americans who think most scientists believe global warming is occurring has dropped 13 points from two years ago, and is the lowest since the first time Gallup asked this question back in 1997.
The last two years have marked a general reversal in the trend of Americans’ attitudes about global warming. Most Gallup measures up to 2008 had shown increasing concern over global warming on the part of the average American, in line with what one might have expected given the high level of publicity on the topic. Former Vice President Al Gore had been particularly prominent in this regard, with the publication of his bestselling book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” an Academy Award-winning documentary movie focusing on his global warming awareness campaign, and Gore’s receipt of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
But the public opinion tide turned in 2009, when several Gallup measures showed a slight retreat in public concern about global warming. This year, the downturn is even more pronounced.
Some of the shifts in Americans’ views may reflect real-world events, including the publicity surrounding allegations of scientific fraud relating to global warming evidence, and — perhaps in some parts of the country — a reflection of the record-breaking snow and cold temperatures of this past winter. Additionally, evidence from last year showed that the issue of global warming was becoming heavily partisan in nature, and it may be that the continuing doubts about global warming put forth by conservatives and others are having an effect. A forthcoming analysis here at Gallup.com will examine shifts in global warming attitudes in recent years among various demographic and political groups.
Read the entire poll results at Gallup News