Increase since March probably due to unusual and destructive weather-

After a period of general decline in belief among the general public that climate change is taking place, polls show a recent surge in believers. Very hot weather in the Eastern U.S. in March, the record breaking drought, and the sudden appearence of more than one rare huge, straight line wind and thunderstorm (a derecho), and massive wildfires, have likely influenced public opinion.

Studies of public opinion on the issue show a number of interesting things. The first is that significantly bad weather, especially more than one widely publicized event, increases public belief in the reality of the matter. The second is that the strongest predictor of belief is a person’s political party identification — Democrat, Republican or independent.

Disbelief in climate change is often attributed ignorance of science. However a recent study showed that this was not the case, at least at knowledge levels typical in the public. The study published in Nature found that global warming skeptics are as knowledgeable about science as climate change believers. Neither group of Americans have a great deal of scientific knowledge, however. Once again, partisanship, rather than knowledge, probably makes the difference.  Among the scientific literate, there was actually more polarization about the issue than the less literate.

Another recent public opinion study shows the Republicans are less likely to believe scientific findings in general than independents or Democrats. Twenty years ago the reverse was true. This partisan gap is related to belief in climate change and other matters such as the origin of human life on the planet.

Climate is the summary of many days and years of weather. So weather on any one day or averaged over a year does not really say much about the stability of climate. Nevertheless, it is hard for climate to influence people’s beliefs about expected weather directly, except by reputation, e.g., we expect Seattle, WA, to be a relatively wet place to live from what we learn during our lifetimes.

If weather returns to what most think is normal in places where public opinion matters, a likely response is less belief in climate change.  Of course, drought, more violent storms, and unusually warm temperatures might be the new normal — this is now the climate.  Confirmation of this relies on the cliche, “only time can tell.”

The matter of believing in climate change is not simple.  If one believes, there remains the question whether it is human-caused or not. There is a further question too, can anything be done about it?

Almost no climate scientists disbelieve that most climates on the planet are changing at greater than the background rate. The large majority say human activities are most or all of the cause of the changes.  There is great disagreement whether anything can be done, especially at what many think is a very late date.

An interesting question for readers of The Wildlife News is whether exposure to the outdoors, knowledge of the outdoors, wildlife, outdoor craft, travel to different places to use the outdoors creates belief in climate change and its causes?  Or are their beliefs trumped by their partisanship/political ideology.  It would seem that those who work indoors and/or stay at home might be less aware of changes in weather patterns.


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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

43 Responses to Number of believers in Climate Change is back up. Will it last?

  1. Snaildarter says:

    Personally I think the opposition to Climate change reminds me of the great flu epidemic on 1918. First everyone denied it and denied the science behind the fears. Then when it got worse they blamed it on God punishing the non-believers, finally when a family member or close friend had it or died from it they begged science to do something about it. I think 800,000 people died from it before it was over. With climate change we won’t be so lucky.

  2. Salle says:

    Koch-funded climate scientist: I was wrong, humans are to blame

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      A very important political fact in the story . . . “Koch’s have given nearly $61.5 million since 1997 to groups denying climate change.” I think that has a major role in creating and/or maintaining partisan cleavage on the issue as well as general public sentiment.

    • Leslie says:

      I saw him last night being interviewed by Rachael Maddow. For a physicist he doesn’t seem too bright. He said ‘Our only hope is to convert to natural gas’. A very myopic person I’d say.

  3. Ralph Maughan says:

    Thanks Salle,

    This should be a story perhaps. I learned about it yesterday . . . was posted to my Facebook. It will be very interesting to see what happens when research they paid for and (wouldn’t?) have turns out wrong.

  4. CodyCoyote says:

    I felt like a lone wolf in the wilderness back in the mid-1980’s when I first started telling people Man was changing the atmosphere , in a mostly negative wholesale way , long before Exxon began funding junk science , ramping up the climate change denial, and creating massive amounts of doubt about the emerging issue of fossil fuel greenhouse gases as a culprit. This was already a front burner issue with me 12 years before Al Gore’s book and movie came out. I’m disappointed that people do not remember the Ozone Layer debate which led to the Montreal Protocol banning certain chemicals ( Freon and other CFC’s ) , that groundbreaking global treaty which entered into force on January 1, 1989. Exxon was already marshalling its considerable influence and wealth against climate change largely because they saw the handwriting on the wall in Montreal . The Cap and Trade provision scared hell out of them. ( Still does ).The tiniest silver lining to the Exxon Valdez tanker wreck three months later was it painted Exxon black. A few years later a whole lotta global hydrocarbon corporations were overtly and discretely going to war against Climate Change, including the infamous Koch kartel.

    Thing is, the Montreal Protocol worked. We saved the Ozone layer from ourselves, but just barely. The important thing was it proved a global climate effort could happen and be adhered to , and Cap and Trade was a bona fide tool , among others. From it came carbon trading and carbon caps.

    Alas, the hydrocarbon industry has been quite effective at steering the debate and controlling the issue since Bush 1 refused to sign the Kyoto treaty. Anti-Climate Change propaganda, junk science, political ” persuasion” and some shameless faux journalism or purchased journalism have worked all to well.

    The biggest negative to my mind has been industry’s success in stalling , deflecting , or neutralizing the public debate by outspending the rest of us while they quietly co-opted government leaders and bought critical votes and wrote some damnable self-serving legislation. Science cannot win any compelling arguments when it is smothered by a brutal, well funded lobby , even when it is right.

    The one thing we ALL can do to win back the Climate Change initiative is to quit using the term Global Warming. Throw that term out of your vernaculat. Replace it with either Climate Change, Climate Oscillation , or if you must use buzz words, Global Weirding. Just don’t call it Global Warming going forward from now.

    The other thing would be to bring it all down to the local level. We need to begin showing folks in their own towns at their own community involvement level how Climate Change is actually effecting their own nearby landscape , water supply , and atmosphere in ways they cans ee it for themselves. Couple that with some hard facts about the true cost of Climate Change to their own wallets and households, the hidden costs and the overt costs of climate as a factor in budgetting. In toer words, to the best of our abilities and with all possible defensible veracity , we have to show people how Climate Change is costing them today , and what it will really cost them tomorrow. The science may be over their heads, but they understand money ( just as Exxon and the Kochs do, all too well. )

    Climate Change is Global : Make it Local.

    Tip: Drill your local candidate for political office on climate change. Make him squirm , or spit out a really awful sound bite. Make it an issue in your town. Because it is…or soon enough will be.

    My skull has lots of lumps on it from 20 years of doing this , before it was fashionable.

    P.S. Al Gore needs to update his book to current status , and start rolling that Inconvenient Truthiness rock back up the hill, dontcha think ?

    • Salle says:

      Al Gore’s most recent essay (that I know of):

      Extreme Weather Disaster Area: This Is What the Climate Crisis Looks Like

    • WM says:


      It may be the complex chemistry and physics involved in CFC’s and Ozone, and their interactions are just beginning to be understood. The implications are not good, especially the impact of thunderstorms over the United States (and possibly other mid-latitude areas of the world. Will the thunderstorms increase in number and intensity, and what will be the result?

      I think these scientists (or at least the journalists reporting their findings) are continuing to use the term “global warming,” because it is. And, in the phenomenon described, increased levels of damaging ultra-violet rays affecting crops, animals and humans.

      “Large thunderstorms of the type that occur from the Rockies to the East Coast and over the Atlantic Ocean produce updrafts, as warm moist air accelerates upward and condenses, releasing more heat. In most cases, the updrafts stop at a boundary layer between the lower atmosphere and the stratosphere called the tropopause, often producing flat-topped clouds that resemble anvils. But if there is enough energy in a storm, the updraft can continue on its own momentum, punching through the tropopause and entering the stratosphere…”

      “…chlorine from CFC’s destroys the ozone….”

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Very troubling is that the energy industry by means of the Koch Brothers and others have become a major, perhaps the major force influencing the Republican Party.

      They have a good chance of taking nearly complete control of the government, which, despite their talk, they will not dismantle — only the parts that protect the public and our natural environmental will they take apart.

      The Republican Party today has changed so much that were Ronald Reagan to show resurrected, he would be marginalized out of the Party.

      • elk275 says:

        The Republican Party today has changed so much that were Ronald Reagan to show resurrected, he would be marginalized out of the Party.

        How about Goldwater? He would be a liberal Democrat today, maybe even a streak of Red.

    • Leslie says:

      In my bio class in ’98 we talked about climate change then. At that time my professor said we had only a few years left, maybe 5, to turn the ship around.

  5. Salle says:

    ‘Not a Mistake’: NASA in Disbelief over Area of Melting Ice
    Greenland ice sheet melted an unprecedented area during July

  6. sleepy says:

    In answer to your question, I believe in climate change as a result of:

    1. the consensus of the scientific community, and yes, I know that blind trust in science, or anything for that matter, carries a danger, yet I respect the scientific method’s search for truth, as well as most individual scientists I know.

    2. the motives of the climate change deniers, i.e., money

    3. my personal experience–when I first moved to northern Iowa from the gulf coast many years ago, I didnt even bother with air conditioning here. Part of that was due to the fact that I was acclimated to Louisiana summers, but mostly because it was simply far cooler–sleeping under a light cover at night with a ceiling fan in July was common. A few years ago, there were literally summers here where it only reached 90 on 2 or 3 days.

    I now have ripe tomatoes in the middle of July when earlier it was always the middle of August. I have daffodils blooming the first week of March, when it was formerly “normal” to have them bloom in April, while the snow didnt even melt until late March.

    Ice fishing season usually ran from c. Dec. 1st until March 1st. Last year there was no ice fishing at all.

    Like most folks, I could go on and on.

    • sleepy says:

      I should add that when I was a kid growing up in the South in the 50s and 60s, armadillos, alligators, and fire ants were generally found not much further north than central Mississippi.

      Now, alligators are found throughout southwest Tennessee and it is not unusual to find them sunning themselves on lakes and riverbanks around Memphis. Armadillos are seen in southern Illinois while fire ants have spread northward as well.

    • Nancy says:

      A neighbor who enjoys sitting out and listening to the sognbirds, says they’ve already left the area (she also had Grebes on her pond this year for the first time) My Bluebird pair only hatched one brood this year. Very unusual. They were actually here earlier than normal but late settling down to nest. Crows have started to mass in numbers, something you don’t see for atleast another month.

      Even though its been hot enough, early morning thunderstorms and “can count on em” by mid afternoon, thunderstorms (especially in July) have been absent in the weather patterns here for the past couple of years.

      • Leslie says:

        oddly enough, my bluebirds arrived early, set a clutch that didn’t hatch for one whole month! Very weird.

    • Jerry Black says:

      You could also be a snowshoe hare in Montana who has turned white as they always have at a certain time of the year….problem is, the snow comes later now and you’re white against a backdrop of brown foilage….you’re wondering WTF?…..I can’t blend in and hide from the predators any more.

      • Nancy says:

        Hares are still kind of grey here Jerry but I found it interesting that a road killed hare, was left untouched in the middle of the road (not quite that old Beatle’s tune 🙂 in the last couple of days when I passed by it.

        Ground squirrels, rabbits, rodents in general (which make up a lot of road kill) seldom have time to bloat and this hare was bloated.

        Had me wondering why there were no feathered scavangers – magpies, crows and ravens – dancing out of the way as I passed by or hanging out on the nearby fenceposts.

        • Salle says:

          Nancy and Jerry,

          I have an over abundance of bluebirds around this year, surely there was a second brood this year. I never heard them before. Never did see any hummingbirds, never have crows at this elevation. I saw a pair of white hares late last April and there was no snow at 7200ft. The bears have been plentiful in the area. The songbirds were here early and I didn’t see or hear any last time I was out by the river last week. Never saw any Nighthawks this year as well as a number of other “regular” birds of the season. Kind of creepy.

          Service berries (not sure of the spelling) were forming in May down at Big Springs in Island Park. I saw Fireweed that was “topping out” yesterday. The orchids were early out in the woods, though I haven’t been out much this year after mid June due to circumstances beyond my control (or liking-I even had a GPS unit on loan and never got to use it… grrr).

  7. Salle says:

    With regard to two of the articles that I posted above, I have to give Ms. Maddow gold stars for covering them in her broadcast this evening…

    The fracking study professor from UTexas who also sits on the “fracking board”:

    And an interview with the converted global warming denier:

    Though this guy is convinced that humans are generally responsible for the climate change we are experiencing lately, I think he’s way off base with regard to his suggested solutions, waaaay off. He’s a physicist, makes me wonder why he’s still advocating for fracking (LNG) and not point source solar and wind generation, which in my view is entirely possible and the best conversion for power that we ~ the entire world population ~ could employ.

    • Leslie says:

      While saying that natural gas is our only hope, he forgot to mention that cars don’t burn natural gas, that fracking uses an abundance of precious water, that the world is overpopulated, etc etc. Where did this guy get his degree? An absence of critical thinking–no wonder it took him forever to validate climate change. In the real world, we call that ‘stupid’.

    • WM says:

      Wind energy is growing dramatically in TX, but may be showing night time ground warming, which apparently affects plant growth. What are the implications for this new and growing energy source, which has environmenal consequences of its own?

      • Salle says:

        Wind and solar farms are unnecessary. Point source generation is the appropriate response to the problem here…

        • JB says:

          I wouldn’t say that wind and solar farms are unnecessary. Certainly, I would rather see power generated by individuals, rather than govt.-subsidized corporations. And the env. effects could be lessened by putting solar panels on existing structures. However, this isn’t a complete solution, as solar provides power only during the day, wind power is variable, and individual-level storage of power comes with its own problems. Wind and solar farms that use emerging technologies to store power are a better alternative (in my opinion) than the current method (coal).

          • Salle says:

            Well, my objection to them is that the plans to put them on pristine and/or vital habitat for numerous species of threatened and endangered species is flat out ignorant. Yes, ignorant.

            If we keep dredging up new territory for the sake of our convenience and continued distraction from our ignorance, we have nobody but ourselves to blame for the decline in our own physical health and well-being. When the wildlife, flora and fauna, are gone, what are we going to do for food, air and water? Aside from the idea that we will also be living on top of each other everywhere not just in cities.

            We may have some marginal technological intellect for genetic modification but where does that lead to? and what about all those folks who like to hunt and fish? And who will be serfs to for all our survival needs? Corporations? The current state of affairs indicates that such reliance is not wise nor is it desirable for a multitude of reasons, including that evasive ~ for most of us ~ realization of the concept of “freedom”.

            This is meant to be parody but it’s also a chilling possibility:


          • Leslie says:

            I understand that in northern CA some creative business types are leasing solar units for homes. The way it works is that they review your yearly power bills, then lease you the equipment for that average price and do the install. Not a bad 1st step as it reduces stress on the grid and also feeds energy back to the grid that isn’t used at the point of origin.

            I recently installed solar/wind at my little cabin. It will never pay off with WY low power prices, but with the tax writeoffs it wasn’t totally prohibitive and seems like a responsible move. And what I’ve found out is that it isn’t something you install and forget about, like grid electricity (I am connected to the grid as well), but you have to re-orient the panels twice a year, watch your battery levels, change the voltage settings in summer and winter–basically, like having a well it takes some know how and attention. The technology isn’t yet up to hassle-free for most people, unless you don’t have batteries and you grid-connect.

            Besides, making all this solar/wind equipment requires mining the minerals, manufacture, and all of it means petroleum. No great solutions are out there to replace the energy that oil provides, unfortunately.

            • Salle says:

              “Besides, making all this solar/wind equipment requires mining the minerals, manufacture, and all of it means petroleum. No great solutions are out there to replace the energy that oil provides, unfortunately.”

              But it could if we moved away from a global economy based on fossil fuels… and I honestly don’t know of anything in this life that is “hassle-free” in some form or another. That part is merely a myth.

              However, if you have anything, it requires some form of attention no matter what it is… inanimate or otherwise.

              One of my favorite sayings that I made up myself…

              You may be an American, however, contrary to popular marketing schemes you cannot “have it all”.

        • WM says:

          Interesting failure of the US (Obama Administration responsibility according to some) to carefully research the energy issue and develop policy.

          Here an interview with T. Boone Pickins, who, about four or five years ago, pushed big wind power in TX and a wubd rich swath of the Midwest.

          There is room for criticism of the Obama Administration here. And, in the meantime US mining businesses are extracting coal from WY and MT, where there is a huge plan in the works by multiple producers to stockpile it in the Columbia Basin and ship to China and Asia via rail and barge along the Columbia River. Two concerns: impacts of coal dust along the route and storage areas, and then once it gets burned in Asia where there are no scrubbers on stacks this coal smoke particulate shit and whatever else in the air comes back across the Pacific to America and Canada with the global weather moving west to east.

          What is the wisdom in this, except more $$$ for coal mining and transport, while the rest of us accept the primary and secondary environmental consequences, and Asian countries who do not have stringent environmental controls continue to make and sell products the US cannot possibly manufacture at lower prices (because we have the more strict and costly environmental regulations to meet). Strikes me as a lose-lose situation for the US all around, except those peddling the coal and the few jobs it generates, all at the expense of adding to global warming/climate change or whatever term one wants to use.

  8. Leslie says:

    This is even scarier science being discussed in climate circles

  9. Salle says:

    Climate Change and the Next US Revolution

  10. Salle says:

    Climate change may force French ski resort to shut down

  11. MAD says:

    I was at a conference several years ago at Pace Law School when I was finishing my LLM in Environmental Law, that dealt with fracking in New York State. On the panel and there were proponents and advocates extolling their beliefs. I was amazed how many potential problems originated from the fracking, such as water contamination, injuries to fracking workers, issues with mortgages…

    I really was surpried when folks thinks that fracking won’t impact them or the land. These bastards won’t even divulge what chemicals are involved in their “cocktail”?

  12. Immer Treue says:

    One study hypothesizes that Columbus and those who followed him into S America and the small pox and other European diseases that accompanied them had such a profound effect on the indigenous people population, that reforestation occurred in S America. An area the size of California was unoccupied and reforested, scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere, and may have been, or one of the causes of the Little Ice Age. Lower CO2 concentrations in ice caps during the time period of the Little Ice Age, lends support to the hypothesis.

  13. Salle says:

    Interesting numbers in this piece…

    We Can Reforest the Earth

    ” Since 2000, the earth’s forest cover has shrunk by 13 million acres each year, with annual losses of 32 million acres far exceeding the regrowth of 19 million acres. Restoring the earth’s tree and grass cover protects soil from erosion, reduces flooding and sequesters carbon.”

  14. Salle says:

    Sen. Sessions: ‘I Am Offended’ By Views Of Climate Scientists

    GRAPHIC: A Day In The Life Of Big Oil

  15. Salle says:

    An entire page of articles about the coal industry, lack of regulation and the regulating agencies’ complicity in playing the laizzez-faire game…

    merely for those who might be interested in learning more.


July 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey