A new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication gives more than half of Americans a failing grade on the specifics of climate change. When questioned about the greenhouse effect, the difference between weather and climate, fossil fuels, carbon dioxide, skeptic arguments and solutions, fully 52 percent of respondents received a failing grade. A mere one percent received an A; 7 percent, a B; 15 percent, a C; 25 percent, a D.
“These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that climate change is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks. Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making about this issue in a democratic society,” the report’s authors, Anthony Leiserowitz and Nicholas Smith of Yale and Jennifer R. Marlon of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, wrote.
Some of the results:
- 63 percent understand global warming is happening; 19 percent say it is not
- 13 percent have not heard of the greenhouse effect
- 83 percent know weather often changes from year to year; 74 percent knew “climate” refers to average weather conditions in a region
- 55 percent incorrectly believe Earth’s climate is warmer than ever
- Given the current surface temperature of 58 degrees, respondants were asked about the average temperature during the last ice age. The correct response is between 46 and 51 degrees; the median response was 32 degrees, the freezing point of water. Many responded 0 degrees.
- 80 percent identified coal as a fossil fuel; 76 percent identified oil as a fossil fuel; 60 percent identified natural gas as a fossil fuel; 28 percent said wood (not a fossil fuel)
- 47 percent incorrectly said fossil fuels are the fossilized remains of dinosaurs
- 49 percent incorrectly believe the space program contributes to global warming
- 42 percent said that, because weather cannot be predicted more than a few days in advance, long-term climate forecasts are unreliable
- 35 percent said that, because Earth’s climate has changed before, the current change is not related to human activity
- 18 percent believe the record snowstorms last year disprove global warming (climate change models actually predict such storms as more water from the poles melts and is dispersed in the atmosphere)
- 21 percent know most of the glaciers on Earth are melting
- 43 percent incorrectly believe that stopping rocket launches from punching holes in the ozone layer will reduce global warming
- 27 percent said climate change is extremely or very important to them personally
- 75 percent said schools should teach the causes, effects and possible solutions to children
The report’s authors caution against reading too much into the grades, however. Some questions were more difficult to answer than others, they note, and perhaps even more importantly few Americans have taken any formal course on climate change, instead getting their information from the mass media.