Science and Public Opinion Being Driven Apart on Climate Change

Experts agree that the science supporting climate change is overwhelming. Yet there is a significant disconnect between this empirical reality and lay perception. According to a 2013 poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, the percentage of Americans who believe that the Earth is getting warmer has remained stable at 63%. However, compared to the previous year, more formerly undecided people now believe that the Earth is not getting warmer (up by 7 points to 23%). There has been a corresponding drop (7 points) in those who believe that climate change is being caused by human activity.

Why are we growing more skeptical of climate change? Political leaders and others point to a coordinated misinformation campaign to discredit the scientifically supported reality of our changing climate. "There isn't just lying going on about climate change, there's a whole carefully built apparatus of lies," reported Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on the Senate floor. "This apparatus is big, and artfully constructed: phony-baloney organizations designed to look and sound like they're real; a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public's understanding of climate."

In contrast, people in Canada, Europe, and other areas recognize climate change as a major problem. Across Latin America, Africa, and Asian-Pacific regions, global warming is considered the most serious threat communities face, according to Pew Research Center surveys. Around the globe, communities are threatened by severe droughts, altered growing seasons, and ravaging storms that destroy their homes and livelihoods. They have observed changes to the land, vegetation, and animal life that are both strange and frightening. The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the current situation will be become more "severe, pervasive, and irreversible."

The impacts will become increasingly serious, with widespread hunger and malnutrition from precipitous drops in crop yield and withering of agricultural land, combined with periodic severe flooding and extreme weather. Climate change is a global phenomena, and thus by definition it is "everybody's problem." However, the United States emits nearly 20 percent of global CO2, but only makes up 4% of the global population. We have benefited immensely from our fossil fuel-driven economy. It is only fair that we come to terms with the climate reality, stop the damage being done, and provide material support to those who are suffering climate change's devastating impacts.

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