WASHINGTON — This country may be run by a rabid climate denier, but when it comes to the existential issue of our time, most Americans aren’t taking their cues from President Trump. Quite the opposite: More Americans than ever say climate change is real and that they’re worried about it.
Those are the results of a new poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. In nearly every way pollsters asked, the 1,114 people surveyed in November and December expressed more awareness of climate change and its impacts, as well as more concern about the increasingly dire state of the planet.
“People are beginning to understand that climate change is here in the United States, here in my state, in my community, affecting the people and places I care about, and now,” Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale climate communications program, told the New York Times. “This isn’t happening in 50 years, 100 years from now.”
Here are some of the most striking stats from the new Yale/George Mason poll:
- 7 in 10 Americans think global warming is happening, a 10-point increase from four years ago.
- Americans who think global warming is real and is taking place right now outnumber those who think it isn’t by a 5-to-1 ratio.
- The 51 percent of Americans who are “extremely” or “very” sure global warming is happening matches the previous high recorded back in 2008.
- Nearly 7 in 10 Americans are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, while only 29 percent say they’re “very worried.”
There are several conclusions you can draw from these findings. One is that the decades-long campaign to deny the existence of climate change, or to claim that humans aren’t the main cause of it, has mostly — but not entirely — failed. Fifty-seven percent of Americans realize that most scientists agree that global warming is happening, which is the highest level since 2008. But far fewer grasp how widespread the consensus is within the scientific community — that is, that more than 90 percent of scientists agree on the facts and causes of climate change.
The new numbers also largely debunk the oft-repeated claim — common among political consultants and even some lawmakers and candidates — that voters don’t care enough about the climate to make it a potent political issue. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans told the Yale/George Mason pollsters that that they were “interested” in global warming. And while just over 5 in 10 people said they felt “helpless,” almost equal the number of respondents — 48 percent — said they were “hopeful.”
That’s a startling level of optimism given the constant barrage of grim news about what new havoc our greenhouse-gas-addled atmosphere is causing. The latest is a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday concluding that Greenland’s vast ice sheet is melting so fast it may have reached a “tipping point,” resulting in far more sea-level rise than previously expected.
The research like this keeps piling up: Another study focusing on the Earth’s opposite pole found that melting ice in Antarctica could similarly contribute to unprecedented increases in sea-level rise around the world. A third paper recently revealed frightening levels of warming in our oceans, which play a vital role in absorbing heat but which also expand when they warm and so contribute to the trend of rising sea levels.
Yet in the face of these apocalyptic findings and others like them, a surprisingly small number of Americans think we’ve hit the point of no return and have given up hope (though scientists say that day is a decade away). A measly few of those surveyed in the Yale/George Mason poll, just 14 percent, said they think it’s too late to do anything about the problem of global warming.
2020 candidates, are you listening?