See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.

This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Americans Believe Global Warming Affects Our Weather

Summary.  The Yale University-George Mason University project on Climate Change Communication issued its latest public opinion survey on Americans’ beliefs about global warming on May 1, 2013.  Almost 60% believe global warming is having an effect on weather in the U. S.  The proportion of Americans believing this has grown about 12% since Spring 2012.  About 80% indicated they personally experienced at least one out of a group of several types of extreme weather or extreme climate in the past year.

The U. S. Congress has not approved any energy program addressing global warming in the last 16 years even though the objective reality that it is occurring, and leading to severe harms to lives, structures and society, is clear.  There are many factors entering into a policymaker’s deliberations on how to vote on global warming legislation, including the sentiments of his/her constituents.  Surveys such as that reviewed here show that generally the American electorate, as represented by the participants in this survey, would support legislative action to mitigate global warming.


Introduction.  Warming of the world’s long-term average temperature arises primarily because of the greenhouse effect from humanity’s large, and increasing, emission of carbon dioxide and other gases into the earth’s atmosphere.  This effect began as the industrial revolution, which has relied on burning fossil fuels to provide the energy needed, has transformed our way of life.  Worldwide use of fossil fuels is increasing at an accelerating pace as mankind’s energy needs grow.

The costs associated with global warming are becoming more and more apparent.  In recent decades extremes of weather and climate have become more noticeably severe around the world.  These events, many of which are considered disasters, cause unanticipated physical, economic and social damages.  The monetary costs of these harms are borne only after the fact as emergency responses that seek to restore infrastructure and economic activity, for example, to the state they were in prior to the disaster.

The United States, as early as 1998, declined to join other developed countries in limiting greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, because the Senate rejected our participation by an overwhelming vote.  Since that time, the Congress has taken up legislation to reduce U. S. emissions as policy, but has failed to enact any law.  Factors that may affect legislators’ voting decisions include opposition from corporate interests that perceive they would be harmed by such policies, popular opinion for or against such policies, and the views of our policymakers concerning America’s competitive position with respect to other economic powers abroad.

Many surveys track American public opinion concerning our perceptions about global warming, on a continuing basis.  The most recent poll from the Yale University-George Mason University collaboration was issued on May 1, 2013.  This post summarizes its representation of the current state of American public opinion on this topic.

The Yale-George Mason collaboration issuedits report as “Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., & Howe, P. (2013) Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind: April 2013. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication” on May 1, 2013.   The survey is based on a survey of 1,045 American adults carried out April 8-15, 2013.    This sample size permitted assigning a margin of error of ±3% at a confidence level of 95%.  A selection of results at the nationwide level is presented below; for breakouts of results for four geographic regions in the U. S. please follow the link above.

·        Almost 6 in 10 Americans believe “global warming is affecting weather in the United States”.

·        Half of Americans, or slightly fewer, believe global warming has made the following recent extreme weather or climatic events “more severe”:

50%: 2012 was the warmest year on record in the U. S.;

49%: Severe drought in the Midwest and Great Plains;

46%: Superstorm Sandy (hurricane-like rains, wind and sea surge affecting the Northeast October 2012); and

42%: Superstorm Nemo (intense, rapid snowfall with high accumulations, February 2013).

For the above events, 21% or fewer respondents believe global warming has “no impact”.

·        64% of Americans believe “over the past several years, … the weather in the U. S. [has] been worse”, an increase from 52% in March 2012 (see the following graphic).
Source: Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., & Howe, P. (2013) Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind: April 2013. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. 
Half (51%) of Americans believe that “over the past several years, the weather in [their] local area has been much worse or somewhat worse”.
·        85% of Americans “personally experienced” an extreme weather event or natural disaster, from among an extensive list.  The top four  types experienced were extreme high winds (not tornadoes), extreme heat wave, drought, and extreme rainstorm.  In addition, 80% of Americans have close friends or family not living with them who have experienced extreme weather events or natural disasters over the past year.
·        37% of Americans were personally harmed “a great deal” or a “moderate amount” by at least one extreme weather event or natural disaster (“harm” includes property damage, financial harm and harm to physical or mental health).  The three highest categories were extreme high winds (not tornadoes), extreme heat wave, and drought.  Almost all categories queried were represented at the same or higher percentages than in Fall 2012 or Spring 2012.  In addition, 36% of Americans have close friends or family not living with them who were harmed “a great deal” or a “moderate amount” by extreme weather events or natural disasters over the past year.
This survey of over 1,000 Americans taken in April 2013 shows that a majority or more believes global warming is contributing to weather and climate events in the U. S.  Almost two-thirds say that the U. S. has experienced worse weather over the past several years.  This proportion is the highest in a rising trend over the past 13 months.
Depending on the event, half or slightly fewer Americans believe that global warming contributed to recent identified severe events.  About four-fifths of Americans personally felt one or more specific severe weather or climate events, and a comparable fraction know others with similar experiences.  More than one-third of Americans experienced damage or harm from these event.
The U. S. Congress has never enacted a national energy policy governing greenhouse gas emissions.  As noted in the Introduction, there are many factors impacting the decision-making process that policymakers go through.  Among these is the opinion of the voters who elect them to office.  The Yale-George Mason survey of public opinion summarized here makes clear that one half or more of Americans believe that global warming affects weather in the U. S. and that it has been growing worse in recent years.  An overwhelming majority has experienced one or more severe weather or climate events, and more than one- third have been damaged by them.  Although the survey is silent on the question of whether respondents were registered to vote, all were 18 years or older, and so eligible to do so.  Our policymakers should pay heed to survey results such as these, and recognize that positions they may take in support of new global warming legislation is likely to be supported by their constituents.  (The survey is also silent on the question of translating the opinions of the respondents into political action, if any.)
Global warming is objectively real; the measured long-term average worldwide temperature is increasing steadily over the last century.  (This is a chaotic process; a spurt around 1940 was followed by a flatter trend but then resumed, nor is a seemingly flattened trajectory over the last decade unusual.  Regional areas during this period have suffered extremes in weather and climate not experienced in earlier times.  Among factors involved is the very large capacity of the oceans to store heat absorbed from the atmosphere.) 
Warmer temperatures are understood to make severe weather events more likely and more intense.  The harms these events cause are compensated by public funds as well as by private insurance; these realities can only be paid for by higher taxes and higher premium rates, respectively.  Furthermore, since the temperature trends, if left unabated, will only lead to more, and more damaging, events.  Any public policies undertaken to mitigate this trend will become harder and require more intense policy efforts, the longer we wait. 
In the absence of a legislated national global warming policy in the U. S., some states and regions have embarked on mitigation policies independently of the federal government, and not correlated with one another.  Additionally the executive branch of the U. S. government, under President Obama, has implemented policy by rulemaking to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  Nevertheless, the most effective path would be a single, uniform policy put in place nationwide by federal legislation.  Policymakers should act as soon as possible to embark on a path of mitigation, secure in the knowledge that the electorate backs their decisions.

© 2013 Henry Auer

No comments:

Post a Comment