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America: Still Hopelessly Confused About Climate Change America: Still Hopelessly Confused About Climate Change

America: Still Hopelessly Confused About Climate Change

by Andrew Price
October 17, 2010


The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication takes a look at what the average American knows about climate change. It turns out—surprise!—we're not particularly well informed as a group.

Many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society.

For example, only:

57% know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat;

50% of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities;

45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface;

25% have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification. 

Meanwhile, large majorities incorrectly think that the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans contribute to global warming, leading many to incorrectly conclude that banning aerosol spray cans or stopping rockets from punching holes in the ozone layer are viable solutions. 

One thing I think we can learn from this data is that the "academic" debate about the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and arguments about policy details, are way over the average guy's head.

Fewer than half of Americans understand the basic mechanism by which carbon causes problems. Is it any wonder, then, that many take a harsh winter as proof "global warming" is a lie, or that a quarter of Americans think "cap and trade" has to do with Wall Street Regulation?

People get very worked up disproving Bjørn Lomborg, or critics of a carbon tax, but simply improving public high school science education is probably much more important.

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