Fewer Americans Think Global Warming Is Happening

How recent weather conditions can influence people’s beliefs about climate change.
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) – Who can forget the winter of 2013-2014? Record-breaking cold temperatures and heavy snowfall hit from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the East Coast.

Although the majority of Americans still believe that global warming is happening, the especially blustery winter caused some people to question whether global warming is really happening.

“Almost invariably we find that after any winter a drop off in belief in the existence of global warming," said Barry Rabe, a political scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In a survey, political scientists learned that after the winter of 2013-2014, more Americans judge the validity of global warming by what they see out their window, not by observing long-term trends or scientific analysis. In fact, 33 percent of Americans surveyed did not believe that global warming was happening after the frigid winter of 2013-2014, an increase of almost 10 percent from the previous year. Of the people who disbelieved in global warming, 38 percent cited their personal observations of the weather as the reason for their skepticism.

But, according to Rabe, global warming cannot necessarily be perceived by daily weather patterns.

“When we talk about something like global warming, we’re talking about a much larger pattern and a much larger phenomenon that’s going to play out for years, decades and for generations. So simply making a decision, thumbs up, thumbs down on the existence of climate change based on what happened before breakfast, is a risky strategy to take,” said Rabe.

While 55 percent of Americans do think temperatures have gone up over the past four decades, it's the lowest level recorded since the spring of 2011. One in three Americans surveyed said there is no solid evidence of global warming.

Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.