April 24 2014
| Climate Notes
Americans have very different mental models of the stability of the climate system. In a nationally representative study, we examined Americans’ understanding of how the climate system works. Survey respondents were presented with the following question:
“People disagree about how the climate system works. The five pictures below illustrate five different perspectives. Each picture depicts the Earth’s climate system as a ball balanced on a line, yet each one has a different ability to withstand human-caused global warming. Which one of the five pictures best represents your understanding of how the climate system works?”
Fragile: Earth's climate is delicately balanced. Small amounts of global warming will have abrupt and catastrophic effects.
Threshold: Earth's climate is stable within certain limits. If global warming is small, climate will return to a stable balance; if it is large, there will be dangerous effects.
Gradual: Earth's climate is gradual to change. Global warming will gradually lead to dangerous effects.
Random: Earth's climate is random and unpredictable. We do not know what will happen.
Stable: Earth's climate system is very stable. Global warming will have little or no effects.
Most respondents chose the Threshold model (34%), followed by the Gradual (24%), Random (21%), Fragile (11%) and Stable (10%) models. Scientifically, at different temporal or spatial scales the climate system can exhibit each of these behaviors, but the best overall answer is the threshold model.
April 23 2014
| Climate Notes
Each year in the United States about 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions – the primary cause of global warming – comes from electric power plants, especially those powered by the burning of coal.
This June, the EPA is expected to propose new limits on CO2 emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. These regulations are likely to face fierce resistance from the coal industry.
What do Americans think about these regulations?
Our new survey this month finds that – by nearly a two to one margin – Americans support setting strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired plants, even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies increases.
Most Democrats support setting such limits, over half of Republicans oppose it, while Independents are evenly divided.
April 20 2014
| Climate Notes
As the country celebrates Earth Day (April 22), leaders in Washington DC should bear in mind that majorities of Americans say a variety of environmental issues should be a high priority for the president and Congress.
Our recent national survey found that over half of Americans say Washington DC should make addressing water pollution (62%), developing sources of clean energy (61%), toxic waste (56%), and air pollution (54%) a “very high” or “high” priority.
Nearly half also say the president and Congress should give high priority to the issues of damage to the Earth’s ozone layer (46%), loss of tropical rain forests (45%), and global warming (44%).
The American public expects their representatives in Washington to take action to protect the environment.
April 09 2014
| Research Reports
We just published a commentary in Earth’s Future, a new online, open-access journal published by the American Geophysical Union. The commentary is entitled: “Climate Scientists Need to Set the Record Straight: There is a scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is happening.”
In the commentary, we argue that the climate science community needs to do more to communicate the scientific consensus because: (a) most Americans don’t know there is a scientific consensus on this point; (b) this lack of awareness undermines people’s engagement in the issue; and (c) research by our team – and others – has shown that simple messages that communicate this basic scientific conclusion are highly effective, especially with political conservatives.
We encourage you to download the commentary and join the effort to set the record straight.
On April 13, Showtime will premiere the first episode of “Years of Living Dangerously,” a big-budget, nine-part documentary series illustrating the impacts of climate change across the planet. Among the executive producers are Academy Award-winning director James Cameron and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Early on, “Years” creators Joel Bach and David Gelber consulted with YPCCC Director Anthony Leiserowitz about how to make the documentary mini-series as broadly appealing as possible. His advice came directly from YPCCC research on what Americans perceive and understand about global warming, and what kind of narratives might get people to take action on the issue. In an interview with Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Communications Officer Kevin Dennehy, Leiserowitz describes some of the advice he shared with them — including insights from his “Six Americas” research.
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The Arctic is on the front lines of climate change. Average temperatures have warmed 2 to 4 times faster than the rest of the world, permafrost literally melts away before your eyes, and many communities already confront forced relocation. We recently published an article examining climate change in this region in The Journal of Coastal Research entitled Integrating Coastal Vulnerability and Community-based Subsistence Resource Mapping in Northwest Alaska. The paper reports results from a multi-year study done in collaboration with four Inupiaq Eskimo villages on the coast of the Chukchi Sea, north of the Bering Strait.