Monday, January 19, 2009

Climate Change Science Losing the Public Battle

In the last few years, the science on global climate change has reached a point where it can conclusively say that human activity is a major cause of changes to our planet's climate. Of course there is still a lot of uncertainty in some areas. We don't fully understand the chemistry of the upper atmosphere or how feedback from deforestation or glacial melting work exactly. But when essentially all of the top climate scientists in the world can agree on something, it's time to realize that while the models might be far from perfect, they are close enough to get the basics right.

However as the science continues to improve and become more sure of the predictions of dramatic climate change, the American public is moving the other direction. A Rasmussen national phone survey released today shows that more Americans now believe that climate change is caused by natural planetary trends (44%) than in April 2008 (34%) with a margin of error of plus or minus 4%. If this survey is accurate, that means that there has been significant shift in the past year away from the scientific conclusion that human activity, not natural trends, are mainly to blame for changes in climate. You can find a story on the poll here.

So why have 1 in 10 Americans changed their minds in the past year? My guess is that the change is driven by economics rather than science. Most people can connect the dots from climate change to energy prices to economic effects. I think that many people blame last years sky-high gas prices for at least part of the current economic downturn, so that influences them to disbelieve climate change in order to protect the economy.

Whatever the reason, this illustrates the fact that most people make decisions about science in very unscientific ways.


  1. I think people question science that has been turned into:

    1. A political issue.
    2. A religious issue.

    People scoff at ideas like evolution and climate change, eTven though they have as much evidence backing them as science everyone immediately believes.

    This is where Joseph Smith's quote is so great: "Facts are stubborn things."

    It is unfortunate too many of today's Americans will be tomorrow's "people who couldn't believe the earth orbits the sun" for pretty much identically the same reasons people of the past couldn't.

  2. Actually I forgot a third issue:

    3. Money

    Many people's opinion about science like climate change comes down to money.

    Again, I would say people's money, politics and religion affect how people perceive science more than anything else and yet science doesn't yield to any of it. "Facts are stubborn things" and there is nothing that can change this.

  3. Unfortunately, unlike evolution which will proceed whether or not people accept it, climate change can be slowed or even stopped if people would just get on board. We could save ourselves a lot of problems in the future if we just started to work on the problem today.

    It's kind of like the people that took out loans on homes they knew they couldn't afford. They choose to believe a more convenient version of reality that included a larger home, only to find out just how stubborn facts can be when they were evicted.

    Sadly, we are doing the same thing with climate change. I don't buy the catastrophic predictions - humanity will be fine in the long run - but to me we are simply forcing our children (and grandchildren and great-grandchildren) to pay for our messes.


To add a link to text:
<a href="URL">Text</a>