Despite the $100s of millions (and likely more accurately, $billions) of resources expended on disinformation, mediocre reporting by the mass media, and the active embrace of falsehoods as part of political manipulation by many of a political party’s leadership, the vast majority of Americans adhere themselves to the basic facts that the globe is warming and that we have a responsibility to do something about it.
In fact, the situation isn’t so rosy.
This Washington Post poll is not out of line with what is being seen elsewhere. Polling is showing that the national understanding of the basic fact that the globe is warming is waning.
We need, however, to put this in context.
First, Americans are not necessarily ‘science friendly’ (or knowledgeable). For example, polling showed that some 25 percent of Americans rejected evolution and another 35 percent didn’t know enough to have an opinion. (This poll and reporting on it provided a text book case of the problems of polling science.)
Secondly, perhaps we should highlight how many Americans seem utterly disconnected with reality. After all, 24% of Americans think the President wasn’t born in the United States and another 12% just don’t know. And, some 45% of those polled falsely believed that there were “Death Panels” in health insurance legislative proposals. Both of these were issues where there concerted efforts to deceive the public about basic facts. And, compared to those, 72 percent still understanding that the globe is warming is an impressive figure.
Third, there is a massive partisan split, with Democratic respondents showing a reality-based bias with 86 percent understanding that global warming is occurring and just 54 percent of Republicans accepting this basic conclusion from the scientific community. Sadly, science has become a strongly partisan issue, with anti-science syndrome spreading like an ugly virus in the Republican ranks (and, not surprisingly, increasingly driving away scientists from the Republican Party). (To be clear, I would much prefer that science were not treated as a partisan hot potatoe. The political debate should be about what policies to adopt, how best to move forward into the future, and what are the best institutions for executing necessary policies. It should not be a debate debasing science and undermining Americans’ understanding of science.) In 2008, the Republican nominee for President clearly stated his understanding that climate change is occurring, that it poses a real threat, and that we should take action to address that threat. It seems certain, reflecting the mounting partisan split, that the 2012 Republican nominee for President will be a global science denier.
Finally, it is impressive that in the face of the massive (and it is massive) disinformation effort, a majority of Americans believe that we should act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — even if other countries don’t take action.
UPDATE: Dave Roberts at Grist has rewritten the opening paragraph. This is the opening that should have appeared in the Post.
A ramped-up effort by conservatives and industry groups to cast doubt on climate science has largely failed to convince the public that the science is in error. The fact that the earth’s atmosphere has warmed over the last 100 years is accepted by 72 percent of the public, down from from 80 percent last year. The decline came principally from the ranks of self-identified Republicans. The partisan split has widened on the issue, but a solid majority of the public accepts the findings of climate science and supports legislative efforts to address climate change.
He concludes the piece:
polls about climate science get treated like the results of some contest between two ideological interest groups. It becomes s a horserace story—“Democrats/
environmentalists are losing”—rather than a story about danger to public health. It’s about environmentalists’ failure to persuade rather than the anti-scientific obscurantism that’s completely overtaken the Republican party, with financial support from large corporate interests.
If I can’t convince a guy standing in a downpour that it’s raining, seems to me the dumbass in the rain is the story, not my poor messaging.