Really Depressing Polling Data on Global Warming Beliefs

By Chris Mooney | June 8, 2011 1:10 pm

Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale is out with new polling data on the public and climate, including asking a question that hasn’t been asked before: “To the best of your knowledge, what proportion of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities?” Here are the (dismal) results:

81 to 100 % (of climate scientists) — 15 % (of Americans)
61 to 80 % — 18 %
41 to 60 % — 18 %
21 to 40 % — 12 %
0 to 20 % — 7 %
Don’t know enough to say — 32 %

In other words, Americans are all over the map on this question, with no idea as to the strength of the scientific consensus. Or to put it another way–the vast majority of the public is either giving the wrong answer, or doesn’t know the answer.


Comments (18)

  1. Jeff

    Is there an actual measurement of consensus? What is that statistic? Just out of curiosity, since I’m one of those people that doesn’t know. :)

  2. Liz Neeley

    Curious whether the breakdown into 20% increments & option to say “I don’t know” gives a different sense of this than, say, a forced choice between larger bin sizes?

  3. Alan Leibensperger

    That’s something I would like to know also. Judging from what I’ve read over the last several decades, a vast majority of scientists beleive there is a direct correlation. And those who have refuted such findings are either employed or connected in some way to the corporations that are known to contribute greatly to environmental pollution.

    We know there have been major climate changes in the world throughout the millennia, but personally, I beleive I have seen more change in my own lifetime than what has occurred over thousands of years. And most of it within the last twenty years or so. One doesn’t need a degree in science to see that.

  4. Like political polling, I don’t think we should get overly excited one way or another regarding any single poll, but rather look at the longer term trends…many factors, not least of which was the global recession and political repositioning, have impacted these poll results over time… but the response to the top line question actually is trending positively (…depending of course on your perspective!) As we have seen over time, polls can swing wildly…I have have hard time getting depressed about this…it’s part of the flow of the game.

    Q471. Recently, you may have noticed that global warming has been getting some attention in the news. Global warming refers to the idea that the world’s average temperature has been increasing over the past 150 years, may be increasing more in the future, and that the world’s climate may change as a result. What do you think? Do you think that global warming is happening?

    May 2011 June 2010 Jan 2010 Nov 2008
    Yes 64 61 57 71
    No 18 18 20 10
    Don’t Know 18 21 23 19

    (note: in draft the numbers above line up , but not on post…you folks are smart enough to figure out where they sit)

  5. Chris Mooney

    from another thread (thanks to somite who posted this) here is one way of measuring the consensus

    “Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate
    researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i)
    97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the
    field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental
    Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and
    scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are
    substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

    and (thanks to mike) here is another

    original thread

  6. Thanks for the PNAS article! I’ve been looking for something like that for a while.

  7. And here are some breakdowns, by area of expertise, of scientists agreeing that global warming is caused mostly by human activities:

    Percentage of climate scientists agreeing: 97.4
    Percentage of meteorologists agreeing: 64
    Percentage of economic geologists agreeing: 47

    Percentage of general public believing that people are responsible for global warming: 58
    2008 Gallup poll –

  8. Nullius in Verba

    The PNAS paper’s statistics have two problems. First, by selecting only those with the most prolific (not necessarily the best) publication record, they introduce strong selection effects. Secondly, by taking the upper tail of the distribution, they bias the proportions.

    For example, if you imagine there are two equal populations, one spread across the range 60-100 and the other across the range 40-110, if you take the top 10% of the combined population, you get most of them from the second population. (The numbers are just illustrative.)

    To a statistician, it’s such an obvious trick that it’s hard to understand how they got away with it, or why anybody takes it seriously. Still, it’s the conclusions that matter, not the methods, isn’t it?

    Here’s a more detailed survey. See q20-21.

  9. I don’t know if it will change things, but ABC and Diane Sawyer had both Heidi Cullen and Jeff Masters on the world news tonight talking about climate and extreme weather. If you think this is hot, get used to you.

  10. Mat C

    Polling may not be an indication of belief like scientific consensus may not be an indicator of truth.

  11. Jeff

    @Chris: Thanks for the links!

    @Nullius in Verba: I’m having trouble discerning your point. Are you saying the noted references by Chris for the survey misrepresent the consensus due to “statistical tricks?” If so, you might want to review your own posted suvey, which shows a dramatic consensus favoring anthropogenic climate change causes, by whatever statistical legerdemain you care to employ. I’m betting I’m simply missing your point, though. :)

  12. Nullius in Verba


    Are you saying the noted references by Chris for the survey misrepresent the consensus due to “statistical tricks?”

    Yes. That was my point.

    If so, you might want to review your own posted suvey, which shows a dramatic consensus favoring anthropogenic climate change causes

    Yes, I agree. That doesn’t affect my point.

  13. Nullius, thanks for the further stuff. I’m learning a lot here.

  14. John

    Congratulations Warmists, you have officially lost the public consensus.

    Chris Said:
    In other words, Americans are all over the map on this question, with no idea as to the strength of the scientific consensus.

    Did you ever consider Chris that many people who say they “don’t know” are simply trying to avoid the social stigma of their real answer which is “I don’t care”?

    Did you ever consider, Chris, that what you see as “education” your students see as “propaganda”.

    By the way Chris, you can’t give a “wrong answer” to a question regarding your “opinion”. I know that you believe people aren’t allowed to have any non-consensus opinion, but they seem to want to anyway.

    I think that all the Warmists who are regulars here, should mark this day in your Calendar, as the official day that Warmists became the minority.

    The consensus is dead. Long live the controversy.

    In other words, the public knows exactly how strong the scientific consensus is, and they seriously don’t care.

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    There’s been an Aussie survey on this too – don’t thnk as detailed – but most of us do accept the scientific consensus that AGW is real even if a majority also don’t want a carbon tax.

  16. Susan Anderson

    John, you really don’t get it do you? The planet has the last vote, and it doesn’t care about your opinion. You appear to have no idea that you are being led by the nose by powerful interests with only short-term profits in mind At some point the earth, which is clamoring for your attention, will up the ante enough that you will notice.

    The science is based on reality, and facts don’t vote. Prejudice does, though, and snarky labels can be quite successful in a world where infotainment trumps reality. However, the increasing power demands of that “virtual” reality depend on real generation, and that generation is trashing your air, your sea, your water supply, your infrastructure, and all that goes with it.

  17. Nullius in Verba


    “The planet has the last vote”

    What would you do, hypothetically, if it “voted” against you?

  18. Graham

    Susan Anderson @#16 says “The science is based on reality”

    Rubbish. Physicist, Professor Harold Lewis, described AGW as unprecedented “pseudoscientific fraud”. Politically driven modelling. Not hard objective science. Not empirical evidence. Fraud.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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