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Americans Trust Scientists Over Climate Deniers

This guest post from Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse examines the disconnect between the Republican Party leadership and how Americans have confidence in scientists.  This highlights the importance of educating the public about climate science — and how the Obama Administration has failed in this educational responsibility.

For years, climate deniers have lied and misinformed to confuse the public on climate change and denigrate scientists.  Last year, it was no surprise when climate denier was picked as the GOP candidate litmus test for 2010. The GOP were filled with cocky confidence that their disinformation campaigns and lies convinced enough people that scientists were involved in a global climate change conspiracy, something that GOP teabaggers want to flip into Congressional investigations should they prevail in the midterms. However, findings from a study can assist achieving comprehensive climate change legislation as well as debunking intended probes: Generally, Americans do not buy climate denier arguments, scientists are trusted more than any other source for information about global warming, and the public wants to be educated about climate change.

Americans lack climate change knowledge.

For awhile I have advocated that President Obama address the public to explain climate change, how impacts are happening now and what is projected for our future because polling over the years indicated that deniers were succeeding in confusing the public. Foreign leaders even called us climate change illiterate.

A study (pdf file) released this past week finds that Most Americans Lack Basic Knowledge of Climate Issues:  63% of Americans “believe that global warming is happening,” and 50% understand it is caused by human activities, but many do not understand why:

According to the survey, 57 percent of respondents know that the greenhouse effect refers to heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere; 45 percent understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the planet’s surface; and only 25 percent are aware of coral bleaching or ocean acidification. And the majority of respondents had significant misconceptions about climate science, including the incorrect belief that the hole in the ozone layer, toxic waste, aerosol spray, and acid rain cause global warming.

Such false beliefs can leave some wondering why, for example, cap and trade is necessary to address global warming when we can just ban aerosol spray cans. The upshot is that “many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society.”

The study graded our knowledge of climate change, causes, impacts, and potential solutions:

In this assessment, only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F.

However, some questions were difficult, and involved issues that Americans really don’t need to understand or know in order to assess whether climate change is happening and what might be good solutions. So, the study also did a grading curve:

Americans don’t buy climate denier BS.

The good news is that despite years of well-publicized lies and disinformation by the climate deniers, most Americans do not buy their BS:

A third of Americans (33%) also incorrectly believe that since the Earth’s climate has changed naturally in the past, humans are not the cause of global warming today.

Relatively few (19%) incorrectly believe that any recent global warming is caused by the sun, that the record snowstorms last winter in the eastern U.S. prove that global warming is not
happening (18%), or that the Earth is actually cooling, not warming (15%).

Only 12 percent of Americans say that global warming is happening, but will be more beneficial than harmful.

Americans trust scientists for information about climate change.

Some really excellent news is that Americans know whom to trust to obtain information about climate change. Despite the climate denier conspiracy claims and lies about “climategate” and the 2007 IPCC report, “Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming.” An overwhelming majority of Americans (72-78%) stated that their “most trusted sources of information about global warming” are science agencies (like NOAA), scientists (72%), science programs on TV (72%) and science museums (72%). Unfortunately, most Americans have learned about global warming from biased or uninformed sources, such as television (88%) and newspapers (71%). But, 65% rely upon the internet, which is another reason why our eco community is so vital and beneficial.

Americans want to be educated about climate change.

Another key finding is that 75% of Americans want to learn more about climate change. Moreover, 75% want schools to teach climate change to children and 68% “welcome” the idea of a national educational program.

We can educate people based on science and in clear, simple terms, like the 2% solution (or, better yet, the 5 percent solution) that are not scary at all. If the public knew what we know, would they support or oppose real reform to save lives, natural resources, and improve quality of life while reducing sickness and disease?

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