Why is the public cooling on climate change?

A Gallup poll is the latest to suggest that interest in mitigating climate change is on the wane. But what is the cause?

From Reuters:

A growing number of Americans, nearly half the country, think global warming worries are exaggerated and more people doubt that scientific warnings of severe environmental fallout will ever occur, according to a new Gallup poll.

The story also mentions an international Nielsen/Oxford University study in December that suggested economic concerns were pushing out those about climate.

However analysing attitudes to climate change, and the reasons behind those attitudes, is complex. Large detailed surveys on the subject are not very common and the odd question thrown into surveys on wider topics sometimes only gives a very anodyne view of the respondents’ feelings. Evidence that the financial crisis has lessened concern about climate change, for example, has been harder to find than intuition might suggest. And high responses on ‘concern’ about climate doesn’t always translate to support for policies to tackle the problem.

At any rate, the Gallup poll itself is not reassuring for the climate movement; the number of those who think climate change is exaggerated has risen; the number who see it as a ‘serious threat’ is a mere 32 per cent.

The number who believe climate change has already begun, will happen soon, or sometime within their lifetimes, however, is 63 per cent.

Damian Carrington at the Guardian points out that possible links to climategate and the Himalayas glacier error are not strong; a survey for the BBC for example found that more respondents had noticed or heard about the very cold northern winter and the largely unsuccessful Copenhagen meeting, than they had about either of the two climate science debacles. He argues that these issues may soon be forgotten – but the more worrying trend is a growing proportion of people who believe the climate is changing, but do not believe human activity is responsible.

If the rapid rise of the acronym ’AGW’ (anthropogenic global warming) is any sign, he could be right.

But if elected representatives are already perceiving a shift towards scepticism, it may not fade away so quickly.

Update: The partisan nature of this shift has been highlighted by Josh Nelson with a detailed breakdown of the Gallup data showing the changing beliefs are concentrated among Republican voters. Gallup concurs.

Related links:

Review of IPCC panel might be too late for some (FT Energy Source)
Cap-and-trade: Perennially unpopular (FT Energy Source)
Why we don’t do much about climate change (FT Energy Source)
Politics, polls and climate change (FT Energy Source)

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