Views on climate change among the public and scientists

Climate change bar graph

Whereas seven out of eight of scientists say that humans are causing global warming, only half of the public agrees, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. Asked which comes closer to their view, "The earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels," "The earth is getting warmer mostly because of natural patterns in the earth's environment," or "There is no solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer," 87% of scientists responding chose the first option, 9% chose the second option, and 3% chose the third option, while 50% of the public responding chose the first option, 23% chose the second option, and 25% chose the third option. 

In a separate series of questions, the respondents from the public were asked, "From what you've read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not?" Yes was the answer of 72% of respondents, with 46% regarding it as "mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels" and 22% regarding it as "mostly because of natural patterns in the earth's environment." No was the answer of 25% of respondents, with 11% agreeing that "we just don't know enough yet about whether the Earth is getting warmer" and 13% agreeing that "it's just not happening."

The respondents from the public were asked whether scientists generally agree that earth is getting warmer due to human activity, with 57% answering yes and 37% answering no. The report observes, "Perceptions of where the scientific community stands on climate change have fluctuated from a low of 44% in 2010 who said that scientists agree ... to a high of 57% saying this today." There was a correlation between regarding scientists in agreement on global warming and accepting global warming: "Those who say either that climate change is occurring due to natural patterns in the earth’s environment or who do not believe there is solid evidence of climate change are more inclined to see scientists as divided."

Demographically, the report explains, "[v]iews about climate change tend to differ by party and political ideology, as also was the case in past surveys. Democrats are more likely than either political independents or Republicans to say there is solid evidence the earth is warming. And, moderate or liberal Republicans are more likely to say the earth is warming than are conservative Republicans. Past Pew Research surveys have also shown more skepticism among Tea Party Republicans that the earth is warming. Consistent with past surveys, there are wide differences in views about climate change by age, with adults ages 65 and older more skeptical than younger age groups that there is solid evidence the earth is warming."

The questions about evolution were part of a larger project, conducted by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, investigating the public's attitude toward science and comparing it to the attitude of scientists. The report relied on two surveys, one conducted by telephone among members of the general public in the United States in August 2014, and one conducted on-line among members of the AAAS in September and October 2014. The broader significance of the project's results are summarized in the Pew Research Center's report(PDF), issued on January 29, 2015.

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