Be the first to hear about new surveys and studies.

Climate Change in the American Mind: April 2019


2. Global Warming Beliefs

2.1 About seven in ten Americans think global warming is happening

Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by more than 4 to 1.

About seven in ten Americans (69%) think global warming is happening. By contrast, only about one in six Americans (16%) think global warming is not happening.

 

2.2 Nearly half of Americans are “extremely” or “very” sure global warming is happening. Fewer than one in ten are as sure it isn’t happening.

Forty-six percent of Americans are either “extremely” or “very” sure global warming is happening. Far fewer (8%) are “extremely” or “very” sure global warming is not happening.

 

2.3 More than half of Americans think global warming is mostly human-caused.

The 2018 U.S. National Climate Assessment (written and reviewed by hundreds of climate experts over the course of four years) states: “Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the only factors that can account for the observed warming over the last century; there are no credible alternative human or natural explanations supported by the observational evidence” (pp. 39-40). http://nca2018.globalchange.gov

A majority of Americans (55%) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. By contrast, about one in three (32%) think it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.

 

2.4 More than half of Americans understand that most scientists think global warming is happening.

A recent review study by John Cook and colleaguesCook, J., Oreskes, N., Doran, P. T., Anderegg, W. R. I., Verheggen, B., Maibach, E. W., Carlton, J. S., Lewandowsky, S., Skuce, A. G., Green, S.A., Nuccitelli, D., Jacobs, P., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., & Rice., K. (2016). Consensus on consensus: A synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environmental Research Letters 11(4). doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002 found that six, independent, peer-reviewed studies about the extent of the scientific consensus about global warming have reached similar conclusions: between 90% and 100% of climate scientists are convinced that human-caused climate change is happening. The most rigorous of these studies found that 97% of climate scientists are convinced that human-caused climate change is happening.

Now, more than half of Americans (53%) understand most scientists think global warming is happening, an increase of four percentage points since our March 2018 survey, and a large increase (+20 percentage points) since the lowest level for this response in 2010. By contrast, one in four Americans (25%) think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening, the lowest level since our surveys began. Very few Americans (3%) believe that most scientists think global warming is not happening.

 

2.5 Only about one in six Americans understand that almost all climate scientists (more than 90%) have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening.

Although the majority of Americans now understand that most scientists think global warming is happening, fewer understand just how strong the level of consensus among scientists is. Only about one in six Americans (17%) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening. A higher proportion of Americans (21%) say they “don’t know” what percentage of climate scientists think human-caused climate change is happening.Respondents were asked to estimate the percentage of climate scientists who have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening by moving a simulated slider bar which appeared on the screen of their computer. This slider allowed respondents to move the marker from 0% on the left to 100% on the right, or to any whole number between the two. A “don’t know” response option appeared below the slider bar.

Public misunderstanding of the scientific consensus – which has been found in each of our surveys since 2008 – has significant consequences. Other research has identified public understanding of the scientific consensus as an important “gateway belief ” that influences other important beliefs (i.e., that global warming is happening, human-caused, and worrisome) and support for action.For more information, see: van der Linden, S. L., Leiserowitz, A. A., Feinberg, G. D., & Maibach, E. W. (2015). The scientific consensus on climate change as a gateway belief: Experimental evidence. PLoS ONE, 10(2). https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0118489