Public pollYet another national poll shows recent slippage in public agreement that global warming is happening and manmade, as a huge majority of scientists believe.

This survey, conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, was released Wednesday.

A few key findings, reflecting changes in public opinion in the U.S. from 2008 to 2010:

  • The percentage who “think that global warming is happening” has dropped from 71 to 57 percent.
  • Of respondents who do think it is happening, the percentage who were “extremely” or “very” sure declined from a combined 72 to 61 percent, while the percentage saying “somewhat sure” increased from 24 to 37 percent.
  • The percentage saying global warming, if happening, is “caused mostly by human activities” fell from 57 to 47 percent.
  • There were also major changes in public perception of scientists’ views. The percentage thinking that “most scientists think global warming is happening” went from 47 percent to 34 percent, while the percentage thinking there is “a lot of disagreement” among scientists on the subject rose from 33 to 40 percent. (A separate poll of scientists, released last summer by the Pew Research Center and American Academy for the Advancement of Science, found that 84 percent said “the earth is getting warmer because of human activity.”)

The poll was released as action on climate-energy legislation is pending in the Senate, with increasingly uncertain prospects for passage. A controversial bill to cap carbon dioxide emissions and create a system for trading emission permits narrowly passed the House last year.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, said in announcement about the poll findings:

  • The survey also found lower public trust in a variety of institutions and leaders, including scientists. For example, Americans’ trust in the mainstream news media as a reliable source of information about global warming declined by 11 percentage points, television weather reporters by 10 points and scientists by eight points. They also distrust leaders on both sides of the political fence. Sixty-five percent distrust Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sarah Palin as sources of information, while 53 percent distrust former Democratic Vice President Al Gore and 49 percent distrust President Barack Obama. …
  • Despite growing scientific evidence that global warming will have serious impacts worldwide, public opinion is moving in the opposite direction. Over the past year the United States has experienced rising unemployment, public frustration with Washington and a divisive health care debate, largely pushing climate change out of the news. Meanwhile, a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct may have contributed to an erosion of public trust in climate science.

The poll was conducted from Dec. 24 to Jan. 3. Interviewers questioned 1,001 Americans aged 18 and older. The results had a margin of error of plus or minus three points. The 2008 data came from a national survey of 2,189 adults.

[Disclosure: Texas Climate News editor Bill Dawson also writes for The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, published by the Yale Project on Climate Change.]

– Bill Dawson

Image credit: © Kostakostov –