14 december 2012

Extreme weather more persuasive on climate change than scientists

AP poll shows that events like superstorm Sandy are succeeding with climate sceptics where scientists have been failing

by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 14 December 2012

As one of the Marx brothers famously said: who do you believe, me or your own eyes?

Climate sceptics, it turns out, are much more likely to believe direct evidence of a changing climate in the form of extreme weather events than they do scientists, when it comes to global warming.

A poll released on Friday by the Associated Press-GfK found rising concern about climate change among Americans in general, with 80% citing it as a serious problem for the US, up from 73% in 2009. Belief and worry about climate change were rising faster still among people who do tend not to trust scientists on the environment.

Some of the doubters said in follow-up interviews that they were persuaded by personal experience: such as record temperatures, flooding of New York City subway tunnels, and news of sea ice melt in the Arctic and extreme drought in the mid-west.

About 78% of respondents overall believed in climate change, a slight rise from AP's last poll in 2009. The result was in line with other recent polls.

Among climate doubters, however, 61% now say temperatures have been rising over the past century, a substantial rise from 2009 when only 47% believed in climate change.

The change was not among the hard core of climate deniers, but in the next tier of climate doubters, AP reported. About 1 in 3 of the people surveyed fell into that category. "Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along," Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University psychologist who studies attitudes to climate change and consulted on the poll, told the news agency.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted between 29 November and 3 December by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,002 adults across the country. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points; the margin of error is larger for subgroups.

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