Following the publication of a George Mason University poll on Wednesday that shows 69 percent of Americans believe the weather is getting worse due to climate change, author and environmental activist Bill McKibbon hailed the findings as proof that “reality will trump big dollar denial efforts” by the pollution-causing industries.
The report, “Extreme Weather, Climate & Preparedness in the American Mind,” (PDF) shows a growing number of Americans have been impacted by severe weather as the number of unusual events has grown in recent years. A full 69 percent of poll respondents said climate change was a driving factor behind the increased instances of tornadoes, hail, flooding, wildfires and droughts.
That’s a dramatic improvement over just 42 percent of Americans who told Angus-Reid pollsters in 2010 (PDF) that they believe climate change is real and driven by emissions from human industry.
“I think it’s a reminder that over the long run reality will trump even the big dollar denial efforts of the fossil fuel industry,” McKibbon, leader of the climate action organization 350.org, said in an email exchange. McKibbon’s group is planning a day of climate education on May 5, launching events across the country to help inform Americans of the dire threats posed climate change.
“We will do our part to speed that realization along on May 5 with our big ‘Connect the Dots’ day at 350.org,” he explained.
Unfortunately for McKibbon and other climate activists, they will largely be operating in a vacuum. Even though a vast majority of Americans believe climate change is leading to more severe weather, a Gallup poll in 2011 found that just 51 percent are “worried” about it, which actually represents a decrease from 2001, when that statistic reached a high of 63 percent.
Part of the reason why may exist in the media: An analysis published Wednesday by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters noted a significant decline in climate news coverage on broadcast networks between 2009 and 2011, representing a drop of more than 80 percent. The Sunday morning news programs saw the most precipitous dropoff, going from devoting a total of 21 minutes in 2009 to just 9 minutes in 2011.
The George Mason University study also found that most Americans still largely get their weather news from local broadcast sources, but few — just 31 percent — have heard their community meteorologist ever mention climate change. Despite meteorologists’ tendencies to abstain from speaking about politically charged issues, 58 percent of survey respondents said they would like to hear what their favorite weathercaster has to say about climate change.
Mirroring those findings, a Yale University study published in Sept. 2011 found that of all the demographics where majorities reject the whole idea of climate change, tea party sympathizers were the largest group: just 34 percent said they believe that climate change is even happening, versus 53 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents who said climate change is real and humans are the cause.
Media Matters noted that the antics of real estate mogul Donald Trump received more coverage in 2011 than the atmospheric phenomena that threatens to make planet earth uninhabitable. By and large, scientists were shut out of the media discussion, and most of the sources called to speak on climate issues were Republicans or other unqualified partisans or media personalities.
Completely lacking from the discussion were the very serious concerns of experts like the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warned just earlier this year that man-made emissions are already causing dramatic weather impacts around the world. The IPCC report was compiled by 220 scientists and economists all over the world, who aggregated thousands of climate studies and connected the dots between them.
A follow-up report published in the scientific journal Nature just this month warned that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are proven beyond any doubt to drive up the global average temperature, and that “runaway” climate change triggered by a sudden release of trapped methane gasses may be just around the corner.
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