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Fewer Americans Believe the Earth is Warming

New Pew Research Center poll shows a decline in the number of Americans who believe climate change is a serious problem.
October 23, 2009

Today President Obama said that climate change skeptics are being pushed to the margins, but that may have been wishful thinking.

Poll results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released yesterday say that the number of people who believe “there is solid evidence that the earth is warming” dropped from 71 percent in April of 2008 to 57 percent now. Only 36 percent said there was good evidence warming is due to human activity, down from 47 percent in April of 2008. Only 35 percent say climate change is a serious problem.

The numbers of climate change believers have been declining for the last few years among Democrats, Independents and Republicans. For independents, for example, 79 percent believed there was solid evidence in 2006, compared to 53 percent now. It might not be a coincidence that Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” came out in 2006.

Now here’s the really odd thing. In spite of these low numbers, 50 percent of Americans believe there should be limits on carbon emissions, even if this causes energy prices to rise. Only 39 percent oppose it.

There’s an uncharitable interpretation–that Americans are being inconsistent. But there’s also a more hopeful interpretation. Climate change models are full of uncertainties. No one really knows just how much the Earth will warm, or what impact this will have, particularly on regional weather patterns. Maybe Americans are learning about these uncertainties, hence the lower numbers siting “solid evidence,” yet concluding that the risk is high enough that we should do something to avoid the worst possible scenarios.

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