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What’s In A Name? Global Warming vs Climate Change

What’s In A Name? Global Warming vs Climate Change

A nationally representative survey finds that the terms “global warming” and “climate change” often mean different things to Americans—and activate different sets of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, as well as different degrees of urgency about the need to respond.

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Climate Stability As Understood by Global Warming’s Six Americas

Global Warming's Six Americas have very different ideas about how the climate system works:

Climate Stability as Understood by the Six Americas

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Anthony Leiserowitz on NPR’s Science Friday

On Friday May 9, 2014, YPCCC Director Anthony Leiserowitz was a guest on NPR's Science Friday, in the week of the release of the 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment, to discuss Americans' responses to climate change.  Other guests were Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Sheril Kirshenbaum, Director of the Energy Poll at the University of Texas.  Listen to the segment here.

Glacier Bay in Alaska. Photo by Meredith P./flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
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How Stable is Earth’s Climate?

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.


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Americans support CO2 limits on coal-fired power plants

Americans support CO2 limits on coal-fired power plants

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.

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Americans want government action to protect the environment

Americans want government action to protect the environment

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.


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