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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Study finds people are confused about climate change, but want to learn

Yesterday`s post was a wallow in the dank recesses of tar sands politics. To make up for how depressing it was, I promised some cautiously optimistic news on the climate change front, in the form of hopeful news from the U.S. Since I am nothing if not a man of my word when it is convenient and when it suits my purposes, here`s that cautiously optimistic news:

According to a Yale University study of Americans`attitudes and knowledge concerning climate change, which was released back in October, substantial majorities of respondents believe that global warming is happening (68%), want to learn more about it (75%), and trust science and scientists to provide information on the subject (above 70%). I take heart in these numbers, because they suggest that  the best efforts of the climate change denial industry may have had less impact than it would sometime seem.

Of course, the study also says that 43% of respondents believe that punching holes in the ozone layer with rockets is one of the causes of climate change. So there is a ways to go.

Anyway, it`s an interesting report so you may want to take a look at it. There`s plenty of bad news to be seen: less than a quarter have heard about ocean acidification, for example. Still, the bad news is to be expected - but some of the good news is, well, unexpected.

One thing that really jumped out at me as potentially explaining some of the general confusion is this one: when provided with the earth`s current average temperature (58 °F), and asked to guess the average temperature during the last ice age, the median answer was the freezing point: 32 °F. This is way off: the correct answer, according to the study, was between 46 and 51 °F. This, to me, may shed light on why so many people seem unconcerned about climate change: they may think that we only have to worry about changes in temperature that measure in the tens of degrees, when in fact a change of only a few degrees in average global temperature can be devastating. Anyway, just one of the interesting findings of this study. 

Now, a word before you view the report: I strongly suggest you apply the Crazy 25% Correction to the numbers. You`ll get depressed otherwise. The Crazy 25% Correction basically corrects for the fact that 25% of any given survey respondents are apparently out of their skulls when they take the survey. This is something that I`ve pieced together over the years. They`re in every single poll or study ever done: no matter how dumb the question, there will reliably be around 25% of the respondents who get it totally, inconceivably, spectacularly wrong. No matter how despicable and borderline war-criminal the political candidate, they will almost never poll below 25%. Who knows why. Anyway, in viewing this report, my non-scientific advice would be that whenever you run across something really depressing, just subtract 25% from the depressing number and you`ll feel better.

After all, the Crazy 25% doesn’t vote, right?


  1. Just saw that 29% of Americans currently approve of the job that Richard Nixon did, which is essentially like a negative control. No error given, so we'll just hope that extra 4% isn't significant, or we'll be dealing with a Crazy 33% before long.

  2. Not to be argumentative, but maybe the 4% remember that Nixon, for all of his lying and craziness, did do some decent stuff (stateside, at least) - EPA, Clean Air Act, desegregation of schools, Title IX, etc.

    But I agree, I think that in this situation we're probably seeing a classic Crazy 25%, maybe with a handful of people who really love the EPA thrown in.