Climate Change Study Shows Most Americans Believe in Global Warming but Not Human Causation

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According to a study published in Nature Climate Change, a majority (63%) of Americans believe global warming is happening. The same study also found that 48% of Americans think that human activity is primarily responsible for global warming, 35% believe natural changes are the main cause of global warming, and 17% were unsure or did not respond.

The statistical model was generated by a team of researchers from Yale and Utah State Universities who put together data from 12 nationally representative opinion surveys conducted between 2008 and 2013. In total, the study analyzed responses from 13,000 individuals across the United States.

The study found that 52% of Americans are “worried about global warming,” and 51% believe global warming “will harm people in the US.”

Although fewer than half of Americans (48%) believe that human activity is primarily responsible for global warming, more than half of Americans (77%) believe the government should fund research into renewable energy sources and 74% believe the government should regulate CO2 as a pollutant. In addition, 63% of Americans believe that there should be “strict limits on existing coal-fired power plants.”

The District of Columbia (61%) and the states of Hawaii (58%) and California (55%) led the nation in people who think human activity is primarily responsible for global climate change. On the other end of the spectrum were Wyoming (42%), Alabama (43%), North Dakota (43%), and West Virginia (43%).

Previous public opinion surveys on climate change have found similar results. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll, 40% of the US public believes global warming is caused by human activity, 35% believe that there is no solid evidence that global warming is occurring at all, and 18% believe global warming is occurring due to natural causes.

Since 1751 about 337 billion metric tons of CO2 have been released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production, increasing atmospheric CO2 from the pre-industrial level of about 280 ppm (parts per million), to a high of 400 ppm in 2013. Over the 20th century, as the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increased, the earth warmed by approximately 1.4°F.

Sources:

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, “Global Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions,” cdiac.ornl.gov (accessed June 8, 2015)

Peter D. Howe, Matto Mildenberger, Jennifer R. Marlon, and Anthony Leiserowitz, “Geographic Variation in Opinions on Climate Change at State and Local Scales in the USA,” Nature Climate Change, June 2015

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Global Climate Change Indicators,” www.ncdc.noaa.gov, Apr. 13, 2010

Dave S. Reay, Eric A. Davidson, Keith A. Smith, Pete Smith, Jerry M. Melillo, Frank Dentener, and Paul J. Crutzen, “Global Agriculture and Nitrous Oxide Emissions,” Nature Climate Change, June 2012

Bessie Schwartz, “What Your Neighbors Think about Climate Change,” huffingtonpost.com, June 5, 2015

US Environmental Protection Agency, “Overview of Greenhouse Gases,” epa.gov (accessed June 8, 2015)