« Back to Home Page

Survey Finds That U.S. Leads the World in Climate Denial

RP Siegel | Tuesday August 5th, 2014 | 29 Comments

4538083341_7ae99b218d_zThis may confirm suspicions that many of us have already had. Besides leading the world in consumer debt and military spending, the U.S. can now add climate denial to that list. That is, according to a Global Trends survey by the U.K.-based market research firm Ipsos MORI. The study polled 16,000 people in 20 leading countries on eight different topics, including the environment.

Not only was the U.S. last, but it was last by a considerable margin. Consider the following question: “To what extent do you agree or disagree, the climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity?” A mere 54 percent of respondents from the U.S. agreed. Compare that with 93 percent from China and 84 percent from both Argentina and Italy. India, France, Turkey, Spain, Brazil, Belgium, South Korea and South Africa all scored 75 percent or higher. Other similar questions yielded similar results. These results were in alignment was data compiled by Pew Research a year ago, which examined the issues that people in various countries considered the greatest threats.

Tied for second-to-last with 64 percent were Great Britain and Australia. What do these three English-speaking countries have in common? Among other things, global media holding company News Corporation, the world’s second-largest media conglomerate, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Canada, which is also blessed with Murdoch’s version of the news, was only slightly better, with 71 percent agreeing.

Survey chart

Respondents who answered “agree” when asked “To what extent do you agree or disagree, the climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity?” 
Data courtesy Ipsos MORI, graph credit RP Siegel

Riley Dunlap, an environmental sociologist at Oklahoma State University is not surprised. “It’s the countries where neo-liberalism is most hegemonic and with strong neo-liberal regimes (both in power and lurking on the sidelines to retake power) that have bred the most active denial campaigns — U.S., U.K., Australia and now Canada.

That certainly seems to be the case here in the U.S. A study by Climatic Change, (cited by Mother Jones), describes 91 climate change counter movement (CCCM) organizations operating in the U.S., funded by a total of 140 foundations, to the tune of $900 million. The U.S. clearly has more big players with more to lose by acknowledging the reality of what is happening to our planet and why. Many of them, will, no doubt, flock to events like the Heartland Institute’s 9th International Conference on Climate Change, in, where else but Las Vegas? The event was billed as “biggest gathering of global warming skeptics in the world.” Good news for those who couldn’t make it. I understand that the Flat Earth Society is now accepting new members.

While the 32 percent of those surveyed who dispute the linkage between human activity and climate change are in the minority (14 percent say they are not sure), they represent a vocal minority indeed. Just look at the comments beneath any article about climate change (including, I predict, this one) and you will find a panoply of opinion-wielders, devoid of any scientific background, but ready to fight all comers on the issue, parroting, no doubt, the rhetoric and tone of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. This brings us to another correlation. How does our ranking on this question match up with our international standing in education, when it comes to, say … science?

According to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measured the performance of high school students from 35 countries around the world on standardized tests, the U.S. ranked 27th, averaging 497 points in science, and dead last in mathematics with a score of 481. Who scored first? China did, in both categories, with scores of 613, and 580, respectively. Not all of the other countries followed suit, but still, there might just be a connection there. People who understand science are more likely to understand the difference between facts and opinions.

We’ve gotten our report card and the grade was not a good one. What do we do to compete with the Limbaughs and Kochs of this world to spread the message that is so vitally important to those people who are so unwilling to believe it?

Image credit: Flickr/eutrophication&hypoxia. Graph courtesy of RP Siegel.

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


▼▼▼      29 Comments     ▼▼▼

Newsletter Signup
  • Rich Balance

    The title of this article is wrong. The fact is the US leads the world in climate realism. Notice how the English speaking countries are the leaders. This is primarily the result of the Internet allowing communications worldwide. Realists are led by a loosely knit group of individuals who have scientific backgrounds. These folks have studied the work of climate scientists and found that work to be filled with anti-science, grant seeking nonsense.

    Since these folks are primarily English speaking, the information has flowed to the English speaking countries first. However, it is starting to reach other countries. Despite the denial of this author, the data and evidence supports these climate realists completely. RP Siegel is the one engaging in climate denial.

    Global temperature vs. CO2 concentration:

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/rss/from:1996.67/plot/rss/from:1996.67/trend/plot/esrl-co2/from:1996.67/normalise/offset:0.68/plot/esrl-co2/from:1996.67/normalise/offset:0.68/trend

    When presented with this data the denial of the climate propagandists becomes obvious. This is the very best data we have and it shows clearly there has been no warming at all for nearly two decades despite the accelerated rise in CO2.

    • Scott Sinnock

      Well said. I consider myself a highly trained scientists who sees rampant moralism and a blatant power play by “science” using all the old political tricks of exaggeration, fear, hope, “self-evident truth”. I suggest the latest Special Section in Science magazine on “sustainability” and ” supply chain assessment and control” (that’s everything) show the same moralistic, unsupported, call for drastic changes in human behavior without ever identifying the threat in any testable way. The cited Science Special section used the word “sustainable” more than 100 times in 10 pages without ever defining it, but telling us that the world is currently “unsustainable”. That is pure junk science, now coming from the most prestigious scientific journal in the world, some say. Some of us Anglophile real scientists see the moral play. Plus the rest of the world, except Europe, does not care one whit. They are just struggling to make ends meet today, they can’t worry a whole lot about 20 years from now when things may be somewhat warmer.

      • Rich Balance

        Exactly, those who have fallen for the sustainability nonsense are just like those that have fallen for the climate hoax. Scientific illiterates or those on the dole.

        • Scott Sinnock

          What puzzles me, Rich, is that many of the strongest advocates of what I call modern Luddism are highly trained in science and propose the use of their science to continue to ameliorate the human condition. Though I understand the “on the dole” argument, I think it goes much deeper than that. Scientists generally consider themselves more objective and less biased than most. Many have heartfelt beliefs that humankind must cut back. I suspect it even ties to our deep cultural concept of original sin. I just don’t think they make a very good case, and it certainly is not a scientific case. Of course “they” think I am crazy.

        • Rich Balance

          The problem is the evidence for AGW looked fairly good for many years. This sucked in many folks who took strong positions in support of the science. Now, they simply cannot back down given their condemnation of those who didn’t initially support AGW. Tolstoy said it best:

          “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth, if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”

        • Scott Sinnock

          Wonderful quote, very applicable these 100+ years later. I think that explains a lot of the insistence on belief in “climate change”, it validates careers but more importantly it validates feelings of self worth. Fear not, each new generations succeeds by casting out the old myths and replacing them with their own.

        • Oklahoma Sam

          That’s because you are crazy and unscientific!

    • RPSiegel

      The complexity of climate science should carry the stunt man’s
      warning, “do not try this at home.” I say this in all seriousness. Wading into
      this debate without sufficient grounding in the underlying science is downright
      reckless. The study of radiation heat transfer and turbulent flow of fluids are
      among the most complex known to man. It’s far too easy for those with much to
      lose by changing energy policy to cherry pick a few temperature records, as you have done, and show a non-correlation with CO2 levels. Anyone alive for the past decade, where summer time heat records and wintertime cold records are being broken by the thousands weekly, can see that temperatures are fluctuating wildly, though in some places they might happen to average out. The point is this: you have to look at the overall temperature of the Earth, something which is admittedly difficult to measure, though it has now been done repeatedly, to see that the planet is indeed warming. This has nothing to do with moralism on the part of scientists, unless you consider seeing a truck heading for someone and advising them to get out of the way, moralism. The greenhouse effect was established as scientific fact over a hundred years ago. Scientists today are no longer trying to prove anything, What they are doing is improving their ability to accurately predict just what we can expect, and to do scenario planning to help our leaders make informed decisions. (FYI- I have an advanced engineering degree and learned about these principles years before I’d ever heard of global warming.) Did you read the part about the 140 CCCM foundations and the $900 million spent on denial. Do you think that might have had anything to do with where your position came from?

      • Rich Balance

        I’ve have a math/physcis degree and have studied climate for 6 years. I suspect my qualifications are more than sufficient to analyze the situation. It’s good you recognize the subject is complex. It should make you wonder why people keep claiming the science is settled. And, since you are so up to date on the science, please tell me what you think of Dr. William Gray’s views.

        As for cherry picking, that is the realm of the alarmists. I simply provided the most recent years of global data. You know, the exact same years that have had the highest levels of CO2 and CH4, the very years that should have the strongest warming. It demonstrates to anyone willing use common sense that the science is pretty much a complete failure. Why would you support a failed science? Do you also support the theory of stationary continents?

        The silly claim that $900 million was spent on denial is propaganda. You didn’t fall for that lie, did you? The author admitted that sum was the total for all conservative causes. Climate was probably a minor part. Not to mention the money being spent on the other side of the coin dwarfs any money spent trying to support climate realism.

        My position came from an examination of the scientific literature and the data. Where did yours come from? I’d be willing to bet you haven’t looked at the science. You are simply repeating what you’ve been told.

        • PoorCitizen

          That being the case, where is the peer reviewed publication that explains why, if the world isn’t warming, all the world glaciers and icefields are melting faster than ever previously recorded?

    • PoorCitizen

      Which all begs the question, if it’s not getting hotter in the past 18 years (which by the way is no longer true once 2014 is factored in), why is it during this time all the world’s glaciers are melting and nearly all at record rates?

      Why, if its not getting hotter, is all that methane coming out of solution now?

  • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

    It’s interesting to see China at the top of the list, considering their dependency on coal is even greater than the US’s

    • Scott Sinnock

      They are adding one 1000 MW coal fired plant per week, a nuke every several months, and, well, you all have heard of the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam. The same poll (perhaps a different one, I read about it several days ago) also showed over 90% of the Chinese didn’t believe scientists about many things. They didn’t ask, “Do you care?”

      • RPSiegel

        The fact is that the city of Beijing is planning to stop burning coal. Those actions speak louder than surveys or words.

        • Scott Sinnock

          When things gets bad enough and people get rich enough they will spend some of their extra money to clean it up a little.

        • Claire

          Clean what up? So you do agree there is something to clean-up, and it benefits the citizens of the earth to clean it up?

        • Rich Balance

          The burning of coal creates lots of pollution. However, most of that gets filtered out in modern coal plants. We figured this out 40 years ago. That’s why the US does not have the problem seen in China.

          The current war on coal is related to emissions of invisible, odorless CO2, also known as the gas of life. It is not pollution.

        • Scott Sinnock

          Yes indeed, Rich, the burning of coal does create lots of pollution, much of which is filtered or we change coal sources (western low sulfur coal vrs. eastern high sulfur, remember acid rain? dead fish in the Adirondack’s acidified lakes? and dead forests in the Blue Ridge?). Ok, constructing windmills has impacts (10 times more concrete and steel rebar than nuclear or coal per kilowatt), perhaps not as much; but in medicine we call them “side-effects”. Why do we burn the coal in the first place? For the “effect” not the side effects, for the great benefit it provides to humanity to run hither and yon in cars and planes and to hospitals protected by levees built with energy extracted from coal, etc, etc. It seems we do a “risk only” analysis and conclude since it’s all “bad” we must stop it. I suggest we try to balance the benefits to humanity from the electricity and direct engine power we get from coal compared to the “incremental” contribution of coal, say, over solar or wind or nuclear or tides or geothermal or……. I suggest the “benefits” far outweigh the risks, though that IS the issue, isn’t it? Let’s talk.

        • Rich Balance

          Like I’ve been telling people for years, there is no such thing as clean energy. It’s all a matter of trade-offs.

        • Scott Sinnock

          Keep telling ‘em, though I had a smart lawyer once tell me, “you scientists need to come up with a free, pollution-less source of energy”. I just sighed.

        • PoorCitizen

          You obviously know little about oceanic geochemistry or marine biology. The pH of the Oceans has fallen about 20% in the past 100 years, and now oyster production is collapsing worldwide. Since oysters utilize the same biochemical pathways to build their shells as do many other marine organisms laying carbon based exo and endo-skeletons, they are having a harder and harder time making their shells. For organisms like oysters that require shells or vertebrates that require bone for survival further drops in the pH of the oceans will spell extinction.

          Is there any point to pretending this isn’t happening as a result of higher concentrations of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere becoming dissolved in the oceans?

          BTW studies of the isotopic composition of the carbon dioxide reveals that it is increasingly coming from man made sources, primarily fossil fuels.

        • Prefabsprout

          “CO2 … the gas of life” The stupidity, it burns.

        • Scott Sinnock

          You ask or imply, “You .. agree there is … benefit(s) … to clean up?”
          Yes, of course, if you have extra money left over after feeding, clothing, and housing yourself. Sure, but put your bid in the hopper along with everyone else on how to spend that excess money. That is what politics, not science, is all about.

        • grandpagreer

          Mr. Siegel,

          The Chinese are planning to stop using coal? You believe that, with all the investment they have in coal? Do you really believe they care about the environment? Or about what the rest of us think? That’s funny, if so!

          Also, “planning” is not “action”. In my opinion, your response to Mr. Sinnock’s comments make little sense…especially as you seem to refute the importance of a survey to which he is referring or rather sureys, in general.

          Which is funny because it is the results of a survey upon which you based your article. It must be much more important than Mr. Sinnock’s survey. However, I noticed that it has more questions and responses than what is discussed in your article, many of which indicate that the world as a whole is not necessarily as convinced as you are of AGW. Why didn’t you include the other responses in your article? Too inconvenient? Can’t quite get your head around what they could mean?

          I urge the other readers to go through the survey and make up your own minds about what the responses to the survey really indicate about world opinion on climate change. It’s not really as “us vs. them” as he and other AGWers seem to want us to think. There are others out there that are finally starting to see through the BS. This guy is not being straight here; he is spinning…kind of like the famous “97%” survey results.

  • Mike

    This comment thread is brought to you by the United States petrochemical industry. Serving the needs of its shareholders and no one else for over 100 years!

    • PoorCitizen

      This is what denialists do. They cluster around the constantly increasing amount of evidence and news of the consequences of greenhouse gases or in this case the increasing presence of another greenhouse gas, methane in our atmosphere, and then try to be the loudest and most persistent voice. This is much easier than actually having evidence that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations have no warming effect in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

      This may generate a psychological effect on those, who are unfamiliar with the science of climate change or the physical consequences of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans, but of course such efforts only slow the education of the public. However, they do nothing to slow the consequent warming of planet Earth by the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

      In time, as the world continues to warm, it will eventually get hot enough and ecosystems sufficiently stressed enough, where people will stop seeing the denialist misinformation campaigns as not just wrong, but as criminal advocacy of human extinction.

      • RPSiegel

        Thank you Mike and PoorCitizen. People like “Sinnock” and “Balance”
        have a habit of showing up on posts like this, like ants at a picnic. As you point out, Citizen, the science is complex and most people are not in a position to evaluate the complete data set and must decide, ultimately, who to listen to and who to trust. That is not an easy choice with so much evidence of corruption in both the business and government sectors. What ends up happening, thanks largely to the nature of our media, is that he who screams loudest and
        acts most certain, wins, evidence be damned. The sad part is that volume and swagger can be purchased while expertise and knowledge must be earned. Of course, that plays conveniently into the hands of the mega-wealthy controlling interests who want to see things remain as lucrative as they are today for as long as possible. There is a change of consciousness that is slowly taking place, where people are beginning to realize that while we humans have accomplished
        much, our priorities have been a bit out of whack. As a scientist and as
        someone who has spent decades studying these issues, I’m putting my money on the scientists and the folks who are taking the broadest possible view. These guys can go with the oil companies if they so choose, though even those people are more accepting of the science than these guys are. I’ve worked with and spoken to a number of people in the oil industry and they are decent folk who are trying
        to do the right thing too. I recently had lunch with the chief scientist of one of the big oil giants down in Houston. He completely accepts the science of AGW and is trying to do everything he can about it. Of course his view is necessarily narrow, since the company must continue to earn profits in order to stay in business, and that can’t help but influence their position.

        • Norm Ruttan

          Thank you for this article.

          I’m encouraged that at least 60% of the people in the U.S. see the writing on the wall, and that 70% of the people in my country Canada see it.

          The other 40% or 30% seem to have gathered here.

  • for Earth

    When I read climate stories I often scroll down to read the comments section. This can be terribly depressing because either there are an awful lot of head-in-the-sand people, innately stupid, brainwashed or (often I suspect) paid trolls. I found one of interest on the HuffPost oped by Frances Beinecke, President of the NRDC.

    Robert D Stolorow · Top Commenter · Psychoanalyst, Philosopher, Author at ‘Self-Employed’ wrote:

    “I hope it will be a time of facing-up to apocalyptic anxiety”:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-relating-existing/201312/death-afterlife-and-doomsday-scenario

    Excerpt:
    “An explanation of the evasion perhaps requires a shift from a philosophical to a psychoanalytic perspective emphasizing the unbearable emotions that would accompany a facing-up to a doomsday scenario with its collapse of meaning. It is from the horror of the doomsday scenario posed by climate change that the minimizers, scoffers, and ridiculers turn away. Ironically, in turning away from the extreme dangers of climate change, we contribute to the coming to be of the horrifying catastrophe we are evading. We must face up to our apocalyptic anxiety before it is too late for the survival of future generations.”