In the United States, more people believe that houses can be haunted by the dead than believe that the living can cause climate change. Is this simply a scary Halloween tale or our frightening future?
The latest Pew poll on global warming shows a large drop in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising, from 71% down to only 57% in the last 18 months. And global warming due to human activity? The overall numbers have declined from 47% to 36%. To put this in perspective, a Gallup poll found that 37% of Americans believe that houses can be haunted. This contrast is particularly dramatic among conservatives: Only 18% of republicans believe that there is evidence of global warming caused by human activity, while 28% of conservatives believe in haunted houses.
Haunted houses remain a favorite theme for entertainment media, from TV shows such as Ghost Hunters to movies such as Paranormal Activity. While there have been a few movies dealing with the human causes of climate change, maybe we need more to sway public opinion. Or perhaps we could just use Jason as the spokesperson for cap and trade legislation.
On a more positive note, the 57% who still believe that the planet is warming is significantly higher than the 39% that believes in evolution. Since Darwin has had a hundred and fifty year head start, I guess scientist should rejoice at the rather speedy success in spreading the word about a warming planet. To be fair to the natural selection crowd, they have tough competition: The world’s most read book is in conflict with evolution. 44% of Americans believe the biblical version of creationism –that humans were created in their present form by God less than 10,000 years ago –and this number climbs to 70% among weekly church-goers.
Since republicans attend church much more regularly, perhaps a more active stance by churches on climate change would increase the urgency and conviction? Well at the highest levels, this has already happened. In 2001, the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying, in part, “At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both ‘the human environment’ and the ‘natural environment’ …Passing along the problem of global climate change to future generations as a result of our delay, indecision, or self-interest would be easy. But we simply cannot leave this problem for the children of tomorrow.”
If anything, the science, advocacy, and global commitment on climate change is stronger than ever. But as climate bills move through the house and senate, the dollar costs of taking action is also becoming clearer. My guess is that the drop in belief, which coincides with a reeling economy, is more about the emerging realities of fixing the problems. Once again it is an inconvenient truth, and it is easier to dismiss the science than deal with the problem. As Ibn al-Haytham, the early developer of the scientific method said: “Finding the truth is difficult, and the road to it is rough.”
But the truth is out there and needs to be dealt with, whether we like it or not. For those who doubt it, a summary of the science is available on the ClimatePath Website.
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