“The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity.” Only half of Americans agreed.
The United States isn’t just divided on the question of global climate change — it’s more divided and more skeptical than other leading countries. That’s the takeaway of an international survey recently published by Ipsos MORI, a top market research company in the United Kingdom, that covers data from 16,000 interviews across 20 countries. The resulting Global Trends 2014 report, which also addresses topics such as government, technology and health, paints the U.S. as trailing its peers in acceptance of human involvement in global warming. For starters, the U.S. was one of only three countries polled where more than half of respondents agreed with the statement, “The climate change we are currently seeing is a natural phenomenon that happens from time to time.” In contrast, a majority of interviewees in the 17 other countries replied that they disagreed or didn’t know, with only 41 percent of all respondents agreeing. Additionally, relative to other countries, Americans were more likely to disagree with the notions that “we are heading for environmental disaster” or that “companies do not pay enough attention to the environment,” according to the report. Perhaps most tellingly, the U.S. ranked last among the 20 surveyed countries in agreeing with the statement, “The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity.” Only half of Americans agreed, compared to three-quarters of all respondents.
So why the divide? The Global Trends report provides one possible clue: Americans are also split on the question of whether scientists themselves are trustworthy. To the statement, “Even the scientists don’t really know what they are talking about on environmental issues,” 43 percent of Americans replied they agreed and 43 percent said they disagreed, with 14 percent reporting that they didn’t know. Futhermore, the Ipsos MORI report identified distrust of authorities in general, including governments and politicians, as another global trend, perhaps helping to explain the rise of the small-government, climate-change-denying Tea Party on the right. Only 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans and 46 percent of Republicans overall believe there is solid evidence of global warming, compared to 67 percent of all American adults, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center. That discrepancy was on full display at the most recent Republican National Convention in 2012, during Mitt Romney’s speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” he said, adding, “My promise is to help you and your family.” For listening liberals, the juxtaposition seemed erroneous: Isn’t protecting Americans from climate change also helping them? But Romney’s dig drew laughter from the conservatives in the audience, who viewed the comment as a poke at President Obama’s absurd environmentalist beliefs. If anything, the line showed just how far apart Americans are on the issue of climate change — much further, apparently, than our global peers.