Research Roundup for February, 2019

Highlights from recent research on the science of climate change communication:

  • In January, U.S. news coverage of climate change focused on the polar vortex and, to a lesser extent, President Trump’s response to the spate of cold weather (Boykoff, Katzung, & Nacu-Schmidt, 2019).

  • Researchers have divided Americans into six distinct groups according to their views on climate change. Ordered from most to least concerned, they are the Alarmed, the Concerned, the Cautious, the Disengaged, the Doubtful and the Dismissive. Since 2013, the proportion of Alarmed has doubled, while the proportions of Dismissive and Doubtful has fallen (Gustafson, Leiserowitz, & Maibach, 2019).

  • In 2017, after Donald Trump took office, the proportion of Republicans who accept climate science declined. In 2018, the number of Republicans who accept climate science returned to previous levels. Among all voters, two in three say they are worried about climate change, the highest level ever recorded. Four in five support a Green New Deal. Fewer Americans support a carbon tax (Leiserowitz et al., 2019).

  • Slightly more than four in 10 Americans support a Green New Deal that is paid for by raising taxes, including a tax on carbon pollution. Slightly less than four in 10 oppose a Green New Deal that is paid for by raising taxes (Data for Progress, 2019).

  • A model of public opinion on climate change across the United States suggests that local experience with extreme weather will do little to bridge the partisan divide on climate change (Mildenberger, Marlon, Howe, Wang, & Leiserowitz, 2019).

  • Six in 10 Americans say that coal power is harmful, while virtually none say that solar and wind power are harmful. Notably, a plurality of Americans believe that solar power is cheaper than coal power. Six in 10 believe that policies to transition the United States to clean energy will spur economic growth and create jobs. Seven in 10 believe that such policies will also reduce pollution and provide a better life for their children and grandchildren (Leiserowitz et al., 2019).

  • Residents of urban, suburban and rural areas are equally likely to say that weather is becoming more severe. However, people living in urban areas are more likely to believe that climate change will affect them and their communities. Urbanites are also more likely to speak out about climate change (EcoAmerica, 2019).

  • Likely voters in the Democratic presidential primary elections in California, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina were asked which issues were most important to them in deciding how to vote. The top issue was universal health care, followed closely by climate change (League of Conservation Voters, 2019).

  • Across Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, seven in 10 voters say that climate change is a serious problem, up from around six in 10 just two years ago. By a significant margin, voters in these states believe that protecting public lands should be a bigger priority than producing energy (The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, 2019).

  • After being told that 97 of climate scientists agree that humans are altering the climate, Americans are more likely to accept climate science, more likely to worry about climate change, and more likely to believe that people should take action. This is particularly true among conservatives (van der Linden, Leiserowitz, & Maibach, 2019).

  • People are more likely to support methods of removing carbon from the atmosphere that don’t tamper with nature. People are more supportive of planting trees, for example, than building machines to scrub carbon dioxide from the air (Wolske, Raimi, Campbell-Arvai, & Hart, 2019).

  • An analysis of billions of tweets created between 2014 and 2016 shows that people found unusual weather to be less and less remarkable over time. In other words, people are growing accustomed to a changed climate. Researchers termed this the “boiling-frog effect” (Moore, Obradovich, Lehner, & Baylis, 2019).

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