CONSEQUENCES OF GLOBAL WARMING

AMERICANS’ PERCEPTIONS OF GLOBAL WARMING IMPACTS

Academic researchers, NASA and NOAA scientists, and the international scientific community through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have linked global warming to various potential consequences, including sea level rise and increased storms, droughts, and wildfires. 

Does the American public know of these possibilities?

Indeed, a substantial majority of Americans have been noticing. In 2020, 75% said they had already seen, either in person or via the media, the consequences of global warming (see the figure below).


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But few people are seeing impact on their own lives. Almost no one in January 2015 said that global warming had personally helped them (9%), and only a few more (34%) believed it had hurt them (see the two figures below).


Question wording can be found here.


Question wording can be found here.

WHAT DID PEOPLE NOTICE?

In December 2013, people who said they already had seen global warming consequences were asked an open-ended question: “What effects of global warming have you seen?” The most common responses were natural disasters, warmer climate, and iceberg effects (see the figure below).

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PERCEPTIONS OF CHANGING WEATHER

According to some accounts, the number of unusual or extreme weather events (such as hurricanes or blizzards) has increased in recent years (1). A majority of Americans have perceived such an increase. The proportion of Americans who have believed that global weather patterns had been more unstable during the last three years than in the three years before ranged from a high of 70% in 2006 to a low of 54% in 2009 and was at 63% in 2020.


Question wording can be found here.

Similarly, when asked whether they thought that global temperatures had been higher in the past three years, 64% of Americans believed that they had in 2020.


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Looking more locally, around 40% of Americans throughout the years have thought that the weather in the county in which they lived had been more unstable over the previous three years, with this proportion being 43% in 2020.


Question wording can be found here.

DROUGHTS, STORMS, AND SEA LEVEL RISE

A majority of Americans (about 57%) on average predicted that global warming was causing more droughts, as seen in the figure below. In 2015, 54% reported that they believed global warming had been causing more droughts.


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An even larger majority of 71% in 2013 said they believed global warming would cause storms to be more damaging, as shown in the figure below.


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A similarly large majority of people (73%) in 2013 believed that global warming would cause sea level rise (see figure below).


Question wording can be found here.

GLOBAL WARMING: HURT OR HELP?

A consistent majority of Americans have thought that global warming would be harmful to future generations. In 2020, 74% said global warming would hurt generations to come at least a moderate amount. In 2010 and 2013 that number was as high as 80% (see the figure below).


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Comparing this to the percent of Americans who thought that global warming would actually help future generations, only 18% of Americans held this belief in 2015, and only 34% believed this in 2020.


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Despite a large majority viewing global warming as harmful to future generations, only a small majority anticipated it hurting them personally, with a peak of 63% in June 2010 and a low of 53% in 2020, as shown in the figure below.


Question wording can be found here.

In fact, only about a quarter (28%) of Americans in 2020 said that global warming would help them at least a moderate amount (see figure below).


Question wording can be found here.

References

(1) Bradford, A. (2014). “Effects of Global Warming,” Live Science. http://www.livescience.com/37057-global-warming-effects.html