Americans Distrust Climate Science But Like The Solutions

America is an outlier country in terms of its citizens’ high level of disbelief about climate science.  And a new Pew poll shows that the partisan divide is strong:

As with previous Pew Research Center surveys, there are wide differences among political party and ideology groups on whether or not human activity is responsible for warming temperatures. A large majority of liberal Democrats (79%) believe the Earth is warming mostly because of human activity. In contrast, only about one-in-six conservative Republicans (15%) say this, a difference of 64 percentage points. A much larger share of conservative Republicans say there is no solid evidence the Earth is warming (36%) or that warming stems from natural causes (48%).

Yet while Americans distrust the science, they seem to like some of the major solutions needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  On energy:

Fully 89% of Americans favor more solar panel farms, just 9% oppose. A similarly large share supports more wind turbine farms (83% favor, 14% oppose).

By comparison, the public is more divided over expanding the production of nuclear and fossil fuel energy sources. Specifically, 45% favor more offshore oil and gas drilling, while 52% oppose. Similar shares support and oppose expanding hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for oil and gas (42% favor and 53% oppose). Some 41% favor more coal mining, while a 57% majority opposes this.

On rooftop solar:

Some 55% of homeowners under age 50 say they have given serious thought to installing or have already installed solar panels at home. Fewer homeowners ages 50 and older say the same (36%).

The key reasons people cite for considering solar are financial followed by concern for the environment. Among all who have installed or given serious thought to installing solar panels, large majorities say their reasons include cost savings on utilities (92%) or helping the environment (87%). Smaller shares of this group, though still majorities, say improved health (67%) or a solar tax investment credit (59%) are reasons they have or would install home solar panels.

And on restricting emissions:

Americans are largely optimistic that restrictions on power plant emissions (51%) and international agreements to limit carbon emissions (49%) can make a big difference to address climate change.

So it’s an odd story, but a reminder that climate advocates should focus on solutions in their messaging on this issue.  Not only do solutions make people feel empowered, particularly if they’re centered on “local action,” but they help reframe the debate away from depressing and polarizing scientific findings.



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