Climate Confusion

There's a new survey out from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication that demonstrates the success climate deniers have had in convincing people not just that we can't be certain that climate change is happening, but that even scientists themselves are divided and confused. Before we go any further, just to be clear: They aren't. The proportion of climate scientists who believe that climate change is occurring is around 99 percent. But that's not what the public thinks.

First, let's look at answers to the question of whether people believe that scientists believe climate change is occurring. For clarity, I've removed the numbers of respondents who think most climate scientists believe it isn't happening (around 4 percent) and those who say they don't know (around 20 percent).


That sure looks like victory for climate deniers. Because if we're actually going to take the kind of major steps required to address our carbon emissions, you'll need Americans to understand it's a problem. But many of them don't. This happened in large part because the denial industry has worked extremely hard to create the false impression of scientific controversy where there is really none. The next time you hear a Republican presidential candidate get asked about climate change, pay attention: They'll almost certainly mention how there's a lot of controversy within the scientific community, and new data is constantly coming out that casts doubt on whether the planet is warming. It's a crock, but if you say it enough times, many people will believe it.

And here's another interesting survey question:


Now, people are notoriously bad at making these kinds of guesses, and in most situations most people have no way of knowing how the scientific community is arrayed. But in this case, advocates have said loud and clear, over and over again, that there is in fact overwhelming consensus within the scientific community. Yet only 13 percent of respondents choose the right answer. Sigh.