Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Warming Wednesdays: Acceptance of global warming rebounding in US

As if on cue, via the CBC I learned of this fascinating poll (PDF) that had identical polls run in Canada and the US within a couple months to provide a very interesting comparative result for attitudes toward climate change.

The poll questions seem to have originated on the US side, because the same poll has been run four times going back to 2008, which provides for some trending too, which brings us to the title:

There is Solid There is Not Solid Not Sure

Evidence of Global Evidence of Global

Warming Warming
Fall 2008 72 17 11
Fall 2009 65 20 15
Spring 2010 52 36 13
Fall 2010 58 26 16

This broadly comports to other polling on the climate crisis, but even as question wordings vary the trend is important, a 6 point gain on acceptance of the problem and a 10 point decrease on denial of the problem is good news.  Climate realists now outnumber denialists by more than 2:1.

As for Canada, the numbers are better - 80% believe global warming is happening and only 14% deny it.  I'm not one to believe in chauvanistic theories of why one nation might do better at a particular thing than another, so my guess is that this has to do with the improved Canadian media scene - we have a strong national public broadcaster in the CBC, and something akin to the Fairness doctrine which still requires news be factual.  We don't (yet anyway) have a Fox news analog so the Washington Times North (aka the National Post) can only do so much.  It's not for lack of a denialist industry or lots of people with a very strong economic incentive to disbelieve in global warming.  Given the role of Alberta, is is likely a much greater share of Canadians depend on fossil fuel extraction for their prosperity at the moment.

Here's the bad news for America:

Question Wording: For each level of government that I mention please tell me if it has a great deal of
responsibility, some responsibility or no responsibility for taking actions to reduce global warming

A Great Deal of Some No Not

Responsibility Responsibility Responsibility Sure/Refused
US Federal 43 30 22 5
65 24 8 3
US State/Province 35 37 23 5
52 36 9 2
US Local 29 36 30 5
42 42 13 2

I think this question was only asked of those who accept the planet is in fact warming because the "no responsibility" figures for both Canada and the US are less than the totals of climate deniers.  In which case, a real problem in America for building the consensus to act is rebuilding the public's understanding that government is the only actor that can adequately address the issue.  There's still too many running around under the delusion that voluntary consumer choice or market forces will solve this on their own.  Those may have some role to play in supporting key technologies as they reach critical mass, in no way can they realistically suffice to resolve the many tragedies of the commons that are built into this problem.

Still 73% of Americans who accept the reality of climate science think the Federal government has at least some responsibility for solving the problem, so it's far from hopeless.

In a way this result is somewhat the opposite of what you might expect, particularly for Canada.  Canada is not a highly centralized country and our Federal government does not actually deliver many services that ordinary Canadians use.  Healthcare, welfare and education are all delivered provincially.  The Feds run the military and the post office and issue passports as perhaps the highest profile Federal services.  Further, with just ten provinces, and only four of them comprising the vast bulk of the populace, it's actually conceivable Canada could reduce greenhouse gas emissions just by provincial action if Ontario, BC, Quebec and Alberta were on board.  That Canadians are so strongly in favour of Federal action is something of a rarity.

The entire poll is well worth reading, there are questions that demonstrate the very strong role partisan affiliation (and thus by proxy, ideology) plays in one's beliefs about the climate - and the results confirm what you'd expect with right wingers in both countries the most likely to be climate deniers.  Other questions delve into support for various policy options and ask how much individuals would be willing to pay in addtional taxes or costs to solve the climate problem.  It's a good poll and I hope they repeat it.

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