By Tom Zeller Jr.
Public opinion on the topic of climate change is notoriously fickle, changing -- quite literally sometimes -- with the weather. The latest bit of evidence on this: Yale's April 2013 climate change survey, which found, among other things, that Americans' conviction that global warming is happening had dropped by seven points, to 63 percent, over the preceding six months. The decline, the authors surmised, was most likely due to "the cold winter of 2012-13 and an unusually cold March just before the survey was conducted."
A far smaller percentage -- 49 percent -- understood that human activities are contributing to the problem.
People and surveys being what they are, these numbers tend to jump around a bit from year to year. At the same time, 49 percent is nearly half the country, so it wouldn't be excessively cheerful (would it?) to note that half of the American public is more or less in harmony with basic science -- at least as it relates to climate change. Given that roughly the same number of Americans flatly reject evolution, the climate numbers represent a comparative bounty of enlightenment.
That's not something you hear very often when it comes to surveys of Americans. Delving deeper into the textbooks, for instance, another recent study showed that less than half of population was clear on whether atoms are smaller than electrons, or whether lasers work by focusing sound waves. In this light (ahem), the larger consensus on global warming is notable. (Answers on atoms and lasers appear at the end of this column.)
But a far more troubling metric from Yale's latest poll suggests that only 42 percent of Americans believe that most scientists think global warming is happening. A full 33 percent of respondents are convinced that there remains "widespread disagreement" among scientists on this question. This is a problem -- both because it is so at odds with reality, and because it likely helps prevent more Americans from recognizing and accepting some pretty straightforward scientific realities.
It is this reason that prompted a team of researchers to painstakingly comb through the abstracts of more than 12,000 scientific articles published between 1991 and 2011 to determine just how much scientific agreement exists on the subject of climate change, and humanity's role in driving it. . . .
Continue Reading . . .
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