A new international poll finds worldwide agreement that climate change is a threat. Opinions are split, however on the nuts and bolts: in particular, whether to act immediately and whether countermeasures are worth the investment. Even so, a window of opportunity seems to have opened that would allow leaders with bold solutions to spark international cooperation and make real strides.
The poll included 17 countries, representing more than 55 percent of the world population (though not all the questions were asked in each of the countries). Western European countries and Canada* were not included.
While global opinion trends are encouraging, the United States—the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases—has some catching up to do. That is to say, an attitude adjustment is in order:
Find this article interesting? Support more research like this with a gift!
- A majority of people in 10 nations, including China, Iran, South Korea, and Mexico, views global warming as a critical threat. In many cases, these numbers represent a rise of around 20 points since 2003.
- But not the US. About 46 percent of Americans surveyed say global warming is critical, while a whopping four in 10 label it “an important but not critical threat.” (Emphasis mine. A similar international survey conducted in 2005 showed 49 percent of Americans in agreement that global warming is “very serious”—a slightly different question; and while domestic research does consistently show increasing concern among US respondents—albeit gradual, the middling levels of concern released this week are right in line with datacollected in recent months by American firms.)
- Some comparisons: In China, 47 percent view climate change as critical. In Iran: 61 percent; South Korea: 67 percent; Mexico: 70 percent.
- And, among 13 countries, the US ranked fifth in the number of respondents who remain unsure that global warming is really a problem (17%).
But let’s focus on the good news: in 9 of 10 nations surveyed, respondents agreed action should be taken to combat global warming. As Stephen Kull, chief analyst of this new data, explained it to the Associated Press:
If you think about the fact that just two decades ago, hardly anyone knew what climate change or global warming was, and now you have people all around the world—even in developing countries—really absorbing that there is something to address here. It’s really quite phenomenal that this kind of change can happen.
However, the numbers certainly don’t mean the scales have tipped toward quick action, or that world populations have seen the light and recognized the enormous long-term payoffs of immediate investment (even while plenty has been reported about the price tags associated with inaction). Here’s the split in the US:
- Forty three percent of American respondents is in favor of “taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.” Not too shabby.
- But, then there’s this: fully 37 percent of Americans surveyed believes the effects of global warming will be gradual, agreeing that “we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost.”
Back to good news (here’s that window of opportunity I was talking about):
- Majorities or pluralities in five out of five developing countries believe that if developed countries are willing to provide substantial aid, less-developed countries should make a commitment to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
- On the flip side, majorities in three of three developed countries believe countries like their own should provide “substantial aid” to less-developed countries willing to “make a commitment to limit their greenhouse gas emissions,” including 64 percent of Americans. Wow!
- And, in ten of 11 countries, large majorities believe international trade agreements should be required to maintain standards for protection of the environment.
All in all, considering these global attitudes and increased media attention to the problem, the world’s stage is set for the US to step up and begin championing climate solutions for industrialized and developing nations alike.
And, considering a history of technological innovation and a national spirit of ingenuity that has taken humankind to the moon and to cyberspace—among other big breakthroughs, it would be surprising if this time around, instead of answering an international call to duty, Americans chose middle-of-the-road over a usual place in the spotlight.
*A note about Canada: while not included in this round of polling, Canada has consistently outpaced the US in attitudes about climate change. In the 2005 survey of 33 nations I mentioned earlier, Canadians who agreed climate change is “somewhat” and “very” serious hit the international average dead on at 90 percent. The US came in fully 14 points below the international average (76%); worse, Americans charted the highest number of respondents among all 33 countries who said climate change is “not serious”—fully 21 percent. In Canada, by contrast, only 9 percent said it’s “not serious.”
How can John Q Public have first hand, science-based perspective on the issue of global warming! Learned scientists STILL are not absolutely certain of the mechanisms at work regarding the various vectors that point to global warming. The reality is that the determination of global warming requires an abundance of scientific knowledge that requires learned and skilled interpretation that John Q Public cannot perform. But that’s true of so many issues that we encounter in our daily lives—issues that are technically and scientifically complex. I often wonder if ‘scientific TRUTH’ exists apart from the political and cultural arenas. Understand that simple physical realities or laws associated with chemistry, physics and other sciences can be reproduced in a laboratory via the scientific method. But as phenomena become more complex and interrelated TRUTH isn’t as easy to replicate in a laboratory and occasionally requires THEORIES and MODELS, which at best, are ‘pointers’ to TRUTH, but not TRUTH itself. That’s where I believe we’re at with ‘global warming’. Even the study of probabilities falls short of bracketing ‘scientific TRUTH’. So though I believe that the popular pointers to global warming may be correct … I still believe that we have some measure to go to validate the ‘scientific TRUTH’ of global warming. That’s not to say decisive, mitigating actions associated with global warming must be solely based on ‘scientific TRUTH; it doesn’t. But one can’t underestimate the impacts/consequences of implementing any such mitigating measures. Have you ever read anything in the scientific community on the status of the ‘ozone layer’ condition and the impact of the US and a few other countries on our elimination of CFCs in the environment? Has it been worthwhile? Cost effective? Environmentally effective? Tough questions to answer ….So when John Q Public believes that ‘global warming’ IS occurring as reflected in polls, it is more of a BELIEF STATEMENT based upon a TRUST in learned priests/priestesses ministering upon an altar of scientific knowledge populated with theories and of course models. But even more important than that …… it’s a BELIEF STATEMENT that’s all too often, based on what one chooses to read, watch and listen to; a BELIEF STATEMENT that often amounts to the parroting their favorite writer, broadcaster, politician or website. But that may very well be the way most issues are dealt with in our culture these days. How much first-hand knowledge does anyone have these days on the world around them anyone?
Agreed. For me, it’s publications such as The New Yorker and in this case Elizabeth Kolbert’s reporting on global warming seminal. Likewise I put a great deal of trust in the facts presented by (if not opinions expressed) of the more conserative Economist magazine.Information overload means we all need filters and interpreters to help understand our environment. Who you trust and go to in this regard says a lot about your judgement, be it Rush L., Fox News, FutureWise, or NPR.
I agree that you should get the information directly from scientists who study the issue. And the vast majority of INDEPENDENT climatologists are now 90% certain that human activities are at the very least a significant factor contributing to global warming. Look at the conference in Paris, where reputable scientists from all other the world stated this reality unequivicably.Are there some scientists who disagree? Certainly, but this is true for only a small minority, most of whom are employed by the energy industry. I think most people who don’t want to accept the realities about global warming are people who are used to an a glutinous lifestyle and are unwilling to change. This is just the age old practice of rationalizing an indulgent lifestyle.
I doubt that personal gluttony or greed has as much to do with it as less insidious factors such as our collective refusal in the US to pay at the pump for the real costs of fuel consumption (roads, health impacts, defending the Persian Gulf, etc.)Place the Japanese or Europeans in a similar value prop situation and they’d upsize vehicles and start driving more. Not to say that we don’t have a collective moral responsibility to fight climate change, there are even those on the religious right who are now getting involved in the cause.
Matt the Engineer
Of course, it’s less important how well informed John Q Public is on science compared to how well informed our representatives are. Hopefully those in Congress are as selective with their news sources as [Arie] is, but I’m guessing there are a lot of “scientific” studies that reach them via lobbyists.
Arie says we have a moral imperative to fight climate change. Matt says John Q doesn’t necessarily have to be well informed on science issues; that it’s our representatives’ responsibility to do the ‘right thing’. Interesting …No one seemed to know whether our ozone ‘holes’ have been measurably affected by the US’ elmination of CFCs. So why do we believe that these incremental measures are working? Has it become a question of ‘faith’ in Science? My guess .. is that if it were all that ‘clear cut’ … ill-sci-educated John Q would have heard about it as an example of what works or doesn’t work by the special interest groups. Let’s say for argument’s sake that our Us change from CFCs made no measurable difference in our ozone layer. Could we then say that all the millions and millions spent to change to more costly alternatives was ‘worthwhile’? I suspect Arie would say. certainly, we have a moral imperative to do so regardless of the cost. What say you?
So when John Q Public believes that ‘global warming’ IS occurring as reflected in polls, it is more of a BELIEF STATEMENT based upon a TRUST in learned priests/priestesses ministering upon an altar of scientific knowledge populated with theories and of course models. I see this rhetoric often on the Internets when denialists/delusionists try to explain why the facts don’t fit their belief system. Fortunately, the frequency of such rhetoric is diminishing. Nonetheless, I call upon Bob – if he is serious about his statements – to foreswear medicine, chemicals and computers, as their ideas, theories, implementation and use are all grounded in the same thing as climate science.
Bobby, For the record I believe we have a moral imperative to address the problem in the most cost effective way possible and to carefully weigh costs and benefits. I treat this the same way I would any fiduciary as well as moral responsibility. I think you’re mistaking this statement for reactionary zeal and failure to adequately study the facts. CO2 is my primary concern and rather than go into it here I highly recommend looking into Elizabeth Kolbert’s excellent journalism on the subject. In my opinion it meets a high bar.
Dan …. Let me apologize for the ‘rhetoric’, it was a bit much I agree. But what say you about our CFC prohibition? In a laboratory it clearly degrades the ozone. I’m not arguing the science, no more than I’d argue the efficacy of medicine or other scientific applications. It’s moving it from the laboratory to real work applications with the related economic consequences and cultural impacts where things get fuzzy. And in terms of facts not ‘fitting’ a belief system, look at the fiasco with MTBE. An additive that was to ‘help’ the environment when in fact ‘poisoned’ it. Not everything that ‘works’ in a lab works in the real world. Good intentions and sincerity don’t necessarily equate to good results. I’m sure the EPA ‘believed’ MTBE was the right application to help the environment then suddenly its wrong. So Dan …. What say you about CFCs?And Arie … I certainly applaud ANY sincere interest and curiosity one has about the world around them. I too believe that morality is a factor in dealing with all aspects of life and how we interact with environment and I don’t dismiss it as idealism. So why did you choose to make CO2 levels as a priority concern? What persuaded you? If you were to read another scientific treatise of an opposing view to Ms. Kolbert’s, would you approach it ….with an open mind? Could you discern fallacy from fact? Conjecture from truth ….. rhetoric from reality? Scientific truth? How much we rely on the opinions of others? We as voters, by and large are dependent and possibly crippled by it. but if we don’t do it who will? Does it come down to a BELIEF STATEMENT and TRUST in the opinion makers to whom we choose to listen?
Wow, existentialism ;)For me this is the culmination of over 17 years of keeping an open mind on the subject since I first studied it in Oceanography class at UW. My thought then was, well increasing the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by 25% over historical levels sounds risky, but there was no consensus at that time that it caused global warming. For example factors such as increased cloud cover could have compensated for the green house effects.Today from what I’ve read (including in conservative mags like The Economist) I’m pretty sure I could walk into a room of smart folks and survive an hour or so of precision question and answering defending my stance. I agree keeping an open mind is absolutely critical – for me it’s a core value. A good example that might surprise you is that I believe the reactionary banning of DTD did far more harm than good, especially if you factor in how effective it was at controlling mosquito populations and malaria in the 3rd world. Radical greenie I’m not 🙂
Bob,I lived in CA when the oil companies duped the state into allowing MTBE as an additive. A few smart people wrote how stupid this was, but the politicians had constituents to please. MTBE use was not, I guarantee you, a scientific process. CFCs are, in fact, a problem. We were correct in eliminating them. The things you read that want you to believe that CFC elimination was whatever they say it was, those articles you read fail to explain residence time to you. But enough of the hand-waving. The topic is AGW. About 60 well-paid contrascientists on the planet [who – almost to a person – do not have climate science or even natural science educations] say one thing, while the rest of the thousands of people on the planet who do this for a living say something else. These people who do this for a living explain their findings in the empirical literature. I have degrees in the natural sciences and thus can read and understand these papers. The contrascientists, who almost to a person do not publish their nonexistent research in the empirical literature, have no such record to examine.In fact, the contrascientists, pseudoscientists, denialists and delusionists have no robust testable hypothesis to explain the current warming on the planet. These contrascientists have put forth no – zero, zip, zilch, nada, nichts – robust testable explanations that would explain why the basic, testable physical principles that say addition of CO2 into the atmosphere (~33% over a ~650 Kyr baseline – take your meds 33% over recommended dosage and get back to us on the effects) WOULD NOT warm the surface of the planet. Cosmic Ray Flux? Can’t stand peer review. Infrared Iris? Laughed out of the journals. Solar irradiance? The data contradict the assertions. It is dope simple. Where are the testable hypotheses that have withstood even the slightest peer review? Nowhere. Where are the data collected by these contrascientists that show X supporting their theory? Nowhere in peer-reviewed journals. Where are the papers showing that physical principles discovered over as century ago by Arrhenius are incorrect? Nowhere. And the denialist movement is also nowhere, reduced to hand-waving and atomistic quibbling over strawmen and totems. When will we begin to actually discuss the changes our society needs to make? Hopefully not after it is too late.==================BTW, the DDT ban myth is just that: a myth. The reason it lost its effectiveness is due to the parasite becoming immune to quinones and mosquitoes becoming immune to DDT. Oh, and DDT and DDÃ‰ being really bad for nontarget organisms like birds.
Yes, For the sake of an example I over simplified the DDT ‘ban’ and I agree the WSJ and others have propagated a one-sided storybook version of the impact of curtailing its use. (Ban is too strong a word.)There is some good debate out there on the subject.
No problem sir, the Bushmills might have been talking there a bit after a long day ;o) . For the record, I think bed nets and certain other applications that don’t include mass spraying the whole jungle to be acceptable substitutes, as well as the other prong being R for drugs that fight the little bacterium guy. Hidden in this debate, IMHO, is the role of drug/chemical profiteering.
R for drugs that fight the little bacterium guy…
R for drugs that fight the little bacterium guy…
Hmmm…Research and Development to fight the little bacterium guy. Too lazy to look up the ASCII code for ampersand, which is apparently what this software wants…
I was looking up the DDT online, I think the Wikipedia entry is a great (though likely imperfect) microcosm of ideas on the debate. The Gates Foundation has made grants to study its effectiveness, but from what I can tell it is no panacea. Embarassingly most of the debates come up in blogs like this one so I feel I’m propagating what should be a non debate as it is being used and studied worldwide. For me it may be that the characterization of the debate as an enviromentalist driven ban that caused lives resonates. Like many I grew up with the demonology of DDT to find out later it wasn’t as black and white as we had been taught as kids.