Trump, Other Disasters Drive U.S. Climate Concern to Record Levels
Recent polling shows a sharp jump in Americans’ awareness of the climate crisis, with nearly three-quarters accepting the reality of climate change and worrying about how it affects their lives. And there’s some indication that Donald Trump is one of the disasters driving the uptick in awareness.
An Ipsos poll last November and December found that 73% of Americans—a 3% increase since March, and a 10% jump since 2015—“understand that climate change is real,” the New York Times reports. “The rise in the number of Americans who say global warming is personally important to them was even sharper, jumping nine percentage points since March to 72%, another record over the past decade.”
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Nearly half—48%–said they are being harmed by climate change “right now”, and 49% believed they would be. Those totals were up 9% and 7%, respectively, between March and November/December 2018.
“It is something that is activating an emotion in people, and that emotion is worry,” said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
“People are beginning to understand that climate change is here in the United States, here in my state, in my community, affecting the people and places I care about, and now,” he added. “This isn’t happening in 50 years, 100 years from now.”
“Americans’ growing understanding of global warming is part of a long-term trend,” the Times states, citing Leiserowitz. “But he attributed the recent increases to a number of extreme weather events with plausible connections to a warming planet, and to the publicity that surrounded two major scientific reports on climate change last year.”
He added that Donald Trump’s Twitter-fuelled fulminations on climate appear to be having an unintended—and positive—effect. “Every time he talks about climate change he drives more media attention to the exact issue,” Leiserowitz said. Acceptance of the scientific consensus on climate change tends to follow party lines in the U.S. But “because he’s become such a polarizing and divisive political figure, whenever he speaks about climate change, immediately he drives the majority of the country in the opposite direction,” he added.
But even so, Leiserowitz sees significant room for improvement in public awareness. “Look, we’re only at 73% that accept it is real,” he told Grist. “That would be above 95% if we’re talking about Japan.”