Most Americans think climate change is happening – to somebody else

Fort McMurray Fire
© Scott Olson/Getty Images

According to the Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2.0, a majority of Americans really do believe that climate change is happening. Even in the Reddest of states, it is over 50 percent and the national average is 70 percent.

Risk perceptionYCCC/CC BY 2.0

But the fun really begins when you start looking at what people think the risks are from climate change. J.D. Capelouto of the the Thomson Reuters Foundation discusses the Yale findings with Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC):

The study also showed that most Americans feel global warming is an issue that will mainly affect others. Only 40 percent believe climate change will harm them personally, despite worsening problems across the country with drought, flooding, forest fires and more intense storms. A majority of people surveyed, however, feel global warming could hurt others in the United States, as well as people in developing countries, future generations and plants and animals.

"For many Americans, even those that do accept that global warming is real and important, they still tend to think of it as distant," Leiserowitz said, both in terms of when impacts will come and where they will happen.That means, for many people, "it doesn't seem like a high priority", he said.

This is not surprising, and has always been a problem for TreeHugger, for those promoting green building and energy conservation, for those saying we should get off coal or oil. People have trouble with risk. Psychologist Sander van der Linden of Princeton University was asked by Katherine Lindeman of Researchgate:

Why is there a gap between recognizing the danger of climate change intellectually and feeling motivated to address it?

Unfortunately, because climate change is a statistical phenomenon that cannot be experienced directly, it presents a unique challenge for the human brain.... Perhaps the most powerful way for you to intuitively understand the risk of touching a hot plate is to burn your finger. Our brains are equipped with a biologically hard-wired alarm system that motivates responses to immediate environmental threats. The problem is that because we cannot readily see, hear, or experience the risk of climate change, this affective warning system is not activated.

Moreover, our cognitive understanding of climate risks is often discounted psychologically by the fact that global warming has traditionally been conveyed as an impersonal risk that is likely to happen in other places, to other people, at some point in the distant future.

It seems that until your house burns down, it is something happening to other people.

policy supportYCCC/CC BY 2.0

It is also fascinating that America elected a government that is bound and determined to do exactly the opposite of what the majority of Americans, including a majority of republicans polled, apparently want.

Tags: Global Climate Change

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