Opinion pollLast week, the Met Office – Britain’s National Weather Service – released a review of more than 100 scientific studies since the last major U.N.-sponsored overview of global warming research in 2007.

The review was produced by scientists from the U.K., Canada, Australia and South Africa. It assessed recent research findings on subjects including rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, warming oceans and declining Arctic sea-ice.

There is only an “increasingly remote possibility” that greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity are not the major reason for climate change detected in the dozens of studies, the authors concluded.

That appraisal was so resolutely unsurprising to the staff of the blog at the prestigious scientific journal Nature that it was reported there under this ironic headline: “Mankind ‘responsible for climate change’ shocker.”

Paralleling the accumulating scientific evidence of global warming, however, are growing indications that fewer Americans accept it. The latest such sign came Thursday, when the Gallup organization released its annual update on attitudes toward the environment.

Echoing other recent poll results in the U.S., Gallup found “a public that over the last two years has become less worried about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are already happening, and more likely to believe that scientists themselves are uncertain about its occurrence.”

The Gallup report on its new environmental poll, which was conducted from March 4-7, went on:

The survey results show that the reversal in Americans’ concerns about global warming that began last year has continued in 2010 – in some cases reverting to the levels recorded when Gallup began tracking global warming measures more than a decade ago.

For example, the percentage of Americans who now say reports of global warming are generally exaggerated is by a significant margin the highest such reading in the 13-year history of asking the question. In 1997, 31 percent said global warming’s effects had been exaggerated; last year, 41 percent said the same, and this year the number is 48 percent.

Other poll findings:

Fifty-three percent of Gallup’s respondents said they thought “the effects of global warming” had already begun – down from 65 percent in 2008 and only slightly higher than the 51 percent who thought that in 1998. The 35 percent this year who said such effects will not happen in their lifetimes or will never happen was the highest percentage giving that answer since 1998.

Sixty-seven percent said this year that they do not think “global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime” – sharply up from the 58 percent who said that in 2008 and only slightly below the 69 percent who said they thought so in 1998. The percentage saying they do expect to experience a “serious threat” dropped from 40 percent in 2008 to 32 percent this year.

Fifty percent said they thought temperature increases were attributable mainly to “the effect of pollution from human activities,” compared to the 46 percent who said they were due more to “natural changes in the environment that are not due to human activities.” In 2007, 61 percent said “pollution” and 35 percent said “natural changes.”

Fifty-two percent said it was their “impression” that “most scientists believe that global warming is occurring,” while 36 percent said they thought most scientists believe it is not occurring. The comparable numbers in 2008 were 65 percent and 26 percent. [In a 2009 poll of American scientists, conducted by the Pew Research Center and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, 84 percent said they think “the earth is getting warmer because of human activity.”]

The Gallup report concluded:

Some of the shifts in Americans’ views may reflect real-world events, including the publicity surrounding allegations of scientific fraud relating to global warming evidence, and – perhaps in some parts of the country – a reflection of the record-breaking snow and cold temperatures of this past winter. Additionally, evidence from last year showed that the issue of global warming was becoming heavily partisan in nature, and it may be that the continuing doubts about global warming put forth by conservatives and others are having an effect.

Update: March 12, 2010

In an accompanying report, Gallup said the declining concerns about climate change that it measured was “most evident among political conservatives, 30 percent of whom believe the effects are already happening, down from 50 percent two years ago. There has been essentially no change in liberals’ views over this time.”

Summing up its findings about the correlation of political ideology with attitudes on the climate issue, the organization said:

Global warming attitudes have become more politically divided over time, and while the shifts toward diminished worry are evident among all party groups, ideological liberals’ views have been more stable than conservatives’ or moderates’ views. Given that conservatives outnumber liberals in the U.S. population by roughly 2 to 1, any significant change in the former group’s attitudes toward global warming is enough to move the needle on global warming attitudes among all Americans.

– Bill Dawson

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