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More Americans Becoming Lukewarmers

“As the level of scientific understanding is increasing, so too is the level of understanding that global warming probably isn’t going to be overly harmful to our health and welfare. Consider … the Gallup question ‘Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?’ … Since 2008, an increasing percentage of respondents (64% in the latest poll) have answered ‘no’.”

Every so often the pollsters at Gallup gather information about Americans’ feelings about global warming. They have a new release. And while each new set of numbers is perhaps interesting on its own, the real insight comes from seeing how attitudes have changed over time. And from the historical trends, it appears that more and more Americans are becoming global lukewarmers–as they should be, given the evidence.

The percentage of American’s polled that worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about global warming tends to bounce around based on current events (Figure 1: click for clarity). In the past decade, for example, there was a rise in “worry” from 2006–2008 corresponding to hurricane Katrina and Gore’s push of “An Inconvenient Truth.”

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Fig. 1. The historical response (percentage of respondents answering “a great deal” or “a fair amount”) to the Gallup poll question “How much do you personally worry about global warming?”

A low point of “worry” was reached in 2010–2011 as the Climategate scandal illuminating scientific misbehavior among leading global warming proponents was making headlines. The rise during the past year or two comes on the heels of record high temperatures in the U.S. But overall there really isn’t much of a trend in the degree of global warming worry in America over the past 25 years or so.

Interestingly, over the past couple of years, the poll numbers show an increase in the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming has already begun and the percentage who think that humans are primarily responsible. To me, this is an indication that more American’s are coming around to understanding the basic underlying science of climate change—and this despite a lack of general “global” temperature rise over during about the past decade and a half. Climate and climate change is complicated, but nevertheless, there is still a growing pressure from human-related emissions of greenhouse gases to cause a general warming.

But as the level of scientific understanding is increasing, so too is the level of understanding that global warming probably isn’t going to be overly harmful to our health and welfare. Consider the historical response to the Gallup question “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?” After about a 10-year run with the percentage of respondents answering “yes” on the rise and those answering “no” on the decline, things turned around about 5–6 years ago (Figure 2). Since 2008, an increasing percentage of respondents (64% in the latest poll) have answered “no.”

Either the respondents are getting older, or else they feel that we are getting a better handle on the magnitude of the coming climate change and that it is not going to be catastrophic (and adaptation is an effective response).

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Fig. 2. The response (percentage of respondents) to the Gallup poll question “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”

This is starting to sound familiar. Global warming is real, humans are partly responsible, the magnitude of the change will be modest and adaptation is more effective than mitigation.

Well, by golly, that is lukewarming to a “t”.

Perhaps the real world of lukewarming makes being a lukewarmer not so lonely. It’s about time!

6 comments

1 Harry Dale Huffman { 04.16.13 at 7:35 am }

As a hard, competent physical scientist, I find the lukewarm position every bit as alarming as the alarmist position–because both incompetently believe in the same theory, that I know to be utterly false (see CO2 Climate Sensitivity Vs. Reality, for example).

When you say,

“…poll numbers show an increase in the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming has already begun and the percentage who think that humans are primarily responsible. To me, this is an indication that more American’s are coming around to understanding the basic underlying science of climate change”,

I do not hesitate to label your conclusion totally illogical, and thus no doubt delusional–insane, to put it bluntly.

2 rbradley { 04.16.13 at 7:47 am }

Mr. Huffman:

Climate economists such as Robert Mendelsohn of Yale have concluded that ‘lukewarming’ has more economic benefits than costs. You seem to be of the view that nature is somehow optimal, a religious view of sorts, that leads to the emotional outburst at the end of your comment.

3 Ed Reid { 04.16.13 at 8:44 am }

rbradley @ 2

Rob,

We do not KNOW what the ideal global average surface temperature is. We also do not KNOW what the actual global average surface temperature is. However, some subset of us apparently BELIEVE that what we ESTIMATE was the global average surface temperature approximately 0.5C ago was ideal; and, that it is imperative that we take aggressive actions to return to that ideal, or at least to avoid diverging further from that ideal. There is also some subset of us who BELIEVE that 270 ppmv is the ideal atmospheric concentration of CO2; and, that it is imperative that we take aggressive actions to return to that ideal, or at least to avoid diverging further from that ideal.

In the discipline of climate science, as in other disciplines: “…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”, Donald Rumsfeld, former US SecDef

Acknowledging the existence of all of these unknowns: “Predictions are very hard, especially about the future.”, Yogi Berra, American philosopher

4 Ray { 04.16.13 at 5:03 pm }

I remember in the 1970s we were all going to die from global cooling. When that didn’t happen the chicken littles panicked and we were going to die from global warming. Now that they can’t find any global warming, we are all going to die from climate change.

5 hunter { 04.16.13 at 5:46 pm }

Having grown up during the Cold War, the 1970′s ice age, the Jehovah’s Witnesses 1976 apocalypse, the Reagan era cold war, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, hurricances Camile and Katrina, the imminent extinction of most of Earth’s species, acid rain, nuclear winter, the war on terror and now AGW, I can with confidence rest on my impression that anyone preaching apocalypse is full of cr*p.

6 T. Caine { 04.16.13 at 8:27 pm }

Chip,

Maybe more Americans are becoming knowledgeable about the complicated nature of our biosphere and the series of interconnected systems that result in our climate conditions. Maybe our countrymen are becoming more learned and proficient in how every one of their daily actions contributes (or not) to those global systems and what the corresponding effects are. And maybe all of that knowledge is bringing people to the conclusion that climate change’s repercussions are tepid and manageable.

Or it might be that in a recessionary environment Americans have a tendency to be “lukewarm” about a lot of things when the sustainability of our growth is brought into question. To me, asking people whether or not climate change will harm them in their lifetime is missing the point. If we asked Americans how many of them thought that national debt levels or entitlement costs would cause them harm in their lifetime, how different would the results be? How surprising is the data from a country that has made a name for itself in spending what it doesn’t have for the sake of the present? Isn’t climate change really a global debt created by us writing checks that natural environment can’t cash? Why would lukewarmers be lonely? We write the book on lukewarm.

It’s possible that those who don’t care about our inflating debt are not the same Americans that don’t care about the climate “debt,” but in my opinion the result of potential shortsightedness is the same. Whether that matters to people or not may be more of an ethical/religious question, but it seems to be a reoccurring one.

A Greek proverb I’m fond of (though I like the Yogi Berra one as well): “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

-Tyler

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