Rising numbers of Americans believe climate science, poll shows

Source: By Emma Howard, The Guardian • Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Around 70% of Americans believe in the science behind global warming – the highest level of acceptance in the US since 2008 – according to a new survey.

The level of belief has increased seven percentage points in the past six months, the polling by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College shows.

The researchers said the significant rise in acceptance is particularly notable among Republicans and evangelical Christian groups.

The swing is largely due to recognition of the role that climate change is playing in changing weather patterns, with respondents citing weather events close to home, according to Prof Barry Rabe, a co-author from the University of Michigan.

The report revealed a “strong recognition of recent weather patterns” with a particular emphasis on severe droughts in the US and warmer local temperatures, he said.

The report reveals strong backing for wind power, energy efficiency measures and natural gas. Support for solar power is the strongest, with 90% approval ratings.

Solar power has become popular in the US among both Democrats and Republicans, with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign pledging to install half a billion panels and Tea Party founder Debbie Dooley championing falling prices and “the freedom that comes from generating our own power” that solar promises.

It is now the fastest-growing source of energy in the US, with installation capacity expected to double by the end of 2016, according to the Solar Energies Industries Association.

Cap-and-trade was the least popular measure assessed, a system in which CO2 emissions by companies or states are put under legal limits, with carbon permits then sold and exchanged on a market. Only 31% of survey participants were in favour of this measure with 36% opposed and 34% unsure.

In August, Barack Obama launched “the clean power plan”, new rules designed to speed up the rate at which states switch to renewable energy. It received support from hundreds of businesses and was hailed as the strongest ever action on climate change by a US president.

It also suggests that “Americans are responding to messages from Pope Francis”, Rabe told the Guardian. The telephone survey of 911 participants was conducted in September shortly before a visit by Pope Francis to the US, which Democrats hoped would help end climate change scepticism in Congress.

Of those surveyed, 15% said the Pope’s visit had made them more convinced that climate change is happening, with 61% supporting the call to action in his landmark climate change encyclical in June.