Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Global warming skepticism climbs during tough economic times

Date:
March 13, 2012
Source:
University of Connecticut
Summary:
The American public's growing skepticism in recent years about the existence of human-made global warming is rooted in apprehension about the troubled economy, a new study suggests.

Polar bear on its own. New research suggests that climate change skepticism stems from the economic recession. When the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, an average 60 percent of people surveyed said that climate change had already begun happening. But when the jobless rate reached 10 percent, that number dropped to about 50 percent.
Credit: Alexander / Fotolia

In recent years, the American public has grown increasingly skeptical of the existence of human-made climate change. Although pundits and scholars have suggested several reasons for this trend, a new study shows that the recent Great Recession has been a major factor.

Related Articles


Lyle Scruggs, associate professor of political science in UConn's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, suggests that this shift in opinion is related primarily to the public's concern about the economy.

"That the economy impacts the way people prioritize the problem of climate change is uncontroversial," says Scruggs. "What is more puzzling is why support for basic climate science has declined dramatically during this period.

"Many people believe that part of the solution to climate change is suppression of economic activity," which is an unpopular viewpoint when the economy is bad, Scruggs continues. "So it's easier for people to disbelieve in climate change, than to accept that it is real but that little should be done about it right now."

Scruggs and UConn political science graduate student Salil Benegal published their findings online in the journal Global Environmental Change on Feb. 24.

The study relies primarily on information drawn from a number of national and international public opinion surveys dating to the late 1980s.

The researchers found significant drops in public climate change beliefs in the late 2000s: for example, the Gallup 2008 poll reported that between 60 and 65 percent of people agreed with statements of opinion that global warming is imminent, it is not exaggerated, and the theory is agreed upon by scientists. By 2010, those numbers had dropped to about 50 percent.

The authors also found a strong relationship between jobs and people's prioritization of climate change. When the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, an average 60 percent of people surveyed said that climate change had already begun happening. But when the jobless rate reached 10 percent, that number dropped to about 50 percent.

The paper also evaluated three other explanations for the crisis in public confidence: political partisanship, negative media coverage, and short- term weather conditions.

"We think that this is the first study to consider the economy and these explanations at the same time, says Scruggs."

Of these, the authors found that faith in climate change dropped across political parties, among Republicans, Democrats, and independents. They also found that that the "Climategate" email hacking controversy and reported errors in the 2010 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which both occurred after public faith in climate change began to drop, were not factors.

The authors did find that if people had experienced a recent change in short-term weather, they were more likely to believe that climate is changing over the long-term. But when the study controlled for these effects, the economy mattered more than the weather, says Scruggs.

The authors also marshaled international evidence showing that European opinion points in the same direction.

"There is probably a stronger overall 'pro-climate' ethos in Europe," says Scruggs. "Still, even in Europe, countries experiencing more severe national recessions saw larger declines in beliefs that global warming was occurring."

The researchers speculate that cognitive dissonance, which arises when people experience conflicting thoughts and behaviors, could explain this pattern. Most people view economic growth and environmental protection to be in conflict, so admitting that climate change is real but should be ignored in favor of economic growth leads to an internal philosophical clash.

"Psychologically, people have to evaluate economic imperatives in the recession, and that can create conflicting concerns," Scruggs says.

When confronted with a desire to boost the economy, he continues, people seem to convince themselves that climate change might not really be happening.

Now that the economy is beginning to bounce back and the unemployment rate is shrinking, Scruggs says it makes sense that belief in global warming has begin to rebound.

"We would expect such a rebound to continue as the economy improves," he says. "You wouldn't make that prediction if you think something else, like political rhetoric, is the issue."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Connecticut. The original article was written by Christine Buckley. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lyle Scruggs, Salil Benegal. Declining public concern about climate change: Can we blame the great recession? Global Environmental Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.01.002

Cite This Page:

University of Connecticut. "Global warming skepticism climbs during tough economic times." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120313122456.htm>.
University of Connecticut. (2012, March 13). Global warming skepticism climbs during tough economic times. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120313122456.htm
University of Connecticut. "Global warming skepticism climbs during tough economic times." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120313122456.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

AP (Dec. 21, 2014) Officials have opened a new road on Hawaii's Big Island for drivers to take care of their daily needs if encroaching lava from Kilauea Volcano crosses a highway and cuts them off from the rest of the island. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

AP (Dec. 20, 2014) A scuba diving Santa Claus explored the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Dive shop owner Spencer Slate makes the dive each year to help raise money for charity. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) US President Barack Obama says that construction of the Keystone pipeline would have 'very little impact' on US gas prices and believes there are 'more direct ways' to create construction jobs. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Lava from an active volcano on Hawaii's Big Island slowed slightly but stayed on track to hit a shopping center in the small town of Pahoa. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins