Divided America united over climate change

A new study from Stanford University shows that Americans are overwhelmingly in favour of reducing global warming and expanding renewable energy capacity. But they don’t realize just how many people share their beliefs.


The majority of Americans don’t realize just how many of their compatriots believe in global warming, according to new research from Stanford University. (Image credit: Russ Allison Loar via Flickr)

The United States may be deeply divided over many issues, but climate change is one of the few areas where there is remarkable consensus, according to new research from Stanford University.

74% believe in global warming

The university conducted a poll with ABC News and the Washington, DC-based research organization Resources from the Future from 7 May to 11 June 2018. It showed that Americans don’t realize how much they agree about global warming: Despite 74 per cent of Americans believing the world’s temperature has been rising, respondents wrongly guessed 57 per cent.

“The majority doesn’t realize how many people agree with them,” said Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and of political science at Stanford. “And this may have important implications for politics: If people knew how prevalent green views are in the country, they might be more inclined to demand more government action on the issue.”

Party lines not so distinct

Breaking the numbers down along party lines, although Republicans and Democrats differ on the issue, the poll revealed that the gap is not as large as people perceive.

For example, 57 per cent of Republicans believe the world’s temperature has probably been increasing over the past 100 years, and 66 per cent believe that the increase was mostly or partly caused by humans. However, respondents – which included Republicans, Democrats and independents – thought only 43 per cent of the Republican base perceived that the world’s temperature was probably going up.

Democrats’ opinions were also underestimated. Respondents thought 69 per cent of Democrats believed global warming has probably been happening, but in reality, the proportion is much higher: 89 per cent.

Issue is ‘extremely important’

Among the most striking findings of the new poll is that the proportion of Americans who say the issue is extremely important to them personally is at an all-time high: 20 per cent (up 7 points from 2015), with 56 per cent saying it’s either very important or somewhat important.

“Twenty per cent of Americans might seem like a small group, but these are people who wake up every morning saying, ‘Another day, another opportunity to do something about climate change,’” Krosnick said. These people are overwhelmingly on the green side of the issue: Some 68 per cent say that government should do more. “These are the folks who put pressure on government to take action, and that group has been growing.”

Tax greenhouse gas emissions

The researchers also asked survey participants about what climate policies they support.

Despite America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, some 81 per cent of respondents believe that the country should try to cut the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere to meet the target in that agreement.

More than two-thirds of survey respondents (67 per cent) said the federal government should require companies to pay taxes for every tonne of greenhouse gases they emit. In addition, some 78 per cent said that a tax should be levied on oil, coal or natural gas imported by a company from another country.

Broad distrust in traditional energy sector

People overwhelmingly favoured renewable energy over the traditional oil industry. For example, 81 per cent support tax breaks to companies that produce electricity from water, wind and solar power. Americans also see an opportunity for future employment within this sector: 69 per cent said the better way for the government to encourage job creation is by developing renewable energy rather than encouraging fossil fuel use.

The researchers also found broad distrust in the traditional energy sector. For example, 78 per cent believe that oil companies have not been honest about their products’ role in global warming and think the companies have tried to cover it up. Their doubt is also reflected when it comes to creating American jobs: Only 21 per cent believed that protecting the traditional energy industry was the better way for job growth.

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