Scientists Map Public Opinion On Climate Change

Apr 8, 2015

Peter Howe is an assistant professor in the department of environment and society at Utah State University. Though current public opinion polls are good at telling us about what the country as a whole thinks about climate change, Howe and his colleagues at Yale University were interested in looking at the differences between places.

“We wanted to look at how public opinion about climate change varies across the country,” Howe said.

Howe and his fellow researchers have built a map, or what he calls an online tool, that brings together geography and statistics. The maps breaks down responses, 12,000 of them, by state and county—showing regions that are more concerned about climate change in a deep red and less concerned in blue.

“One of the main surprising things that we took away right away after building this tool is just how much diversity in public opinion about climate change there is across the country,” Howe said.

Unsurprisingly, the map shows that people on the West Coast and in the Northeast are more likely to believe global warming is happening and are more worried about the effects of climate change.

Howe said diversity in how people think about climate change doesn’t end at the state level, there can be a lot of diversity within states too.

“In Utah, there is diversity…for example, Summit County which has 54 percent of its population we estimate to be either somewhat or very worried about global warming. That ranges all the way down to 38 percent in Beaver County,” Howe said.

The map could be useful for policy makers.

“Decisions about how to respond to climate change are not only happening at the national level, but decisions about how to respond to global warming are going to be happening at the state and local levels as well, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of good information on what people think at those particular levels, so we’re hoping that the data from this tool and the data from these maps will help decision makers who are thinking about how to respond to the issue right now,” Howe said.

The map will be updated as Howe’s colleagues at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication conduct additional nationwide surveys. Click here for the interactive map.