Global climate change in the American mind

The amount of Americans who are very worried about global warming has decreased from 17 percent in 2009 to 9 percent in 2011, despite the current negative effects of climate change taking place, an environmental studies professor said Wednesday.

Over 80 people gathered at the University of Oregon’s Many Nations Long House at listen to a presentation titled, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” by Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. The presentation focused on American opinions toward global warming, their disbelief, and ways to change American disbelief.

Leiserowitz said that in the ‘20’s, a group of scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer and then NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, came up with an actual picture of the hole. Ten years later, “We’ve got another problem, and that is the greenhouse effect,” Leiserowitz said.

Though these problems in the environment could cause negative changes to human health, Leiserowitz said that nobody talks about human health as an aspect to global warming, and so they don’t feel the need to take action to prevent global warming is urgent. “Americans simply do not connect the dots between climate change, and heath,” said Leiserowitz.

While global warming may affect human health, most Americans also disregard the fact that global warming exists at all. “The number of naysayers has greatly increased,” Leiserowitz said. There were many factors responsible for the increase of disbelievers, Leiserowitz told the audience. They included the economy and unemployment, declining media coverage, unusual cold weather, an effective “denial” industry, and the climate gate. “It’s invisible, and all the impacts are invisible,” said Leiserowitz.

Some audience members had mixed opinions on climate change, such as Chuck Harway who was visiting University of Oregon in interest of their law school, specifically to study public interest and environmental law. “One of my friends is a pioneer in the oil industry, and is petroleum engineer. He basically feels that global warming is not happening or at least isn’t a human cause,” Harway said. “If you want to talk to people about global warming strategically, like my friend, you would have to talk about such things like reducing our dependency on foreign oil.”

Global warming’s “Six Americans” are the six ways that Americans are categorized depending on their feelings toward global warming. Leiserowitz discussed the percentage of the American public who fit into the categories which included: the alarmed, 12 percent; concerned, 27 percent; cautious, 24 percent; disengaged, 10 percent; doubtful, 15 percent; and dismissive, 10 percent. Though the percentages of dismissive Americans were the lowest, Leiserowitz said that the “dismissive” section was responsible for 70 to 80 percent of all comments denying global warming in the media and were mostly white, male, conservative, or republican. “It’s only 10 percent!” said Leiserowitz. “They’ve got some good financial backing, but its only 10 percent.”

But what about the large 27 percent of concerned Americans? “We spend much time educating people on the impact, not the solutions,” said Leiserowitz. “We have to have collective changes; we have to change the system.”

After Leizerwitz presentation, interested audience members asked him many questions about global warming such as what is the most effective way to convince people that climate change is real.

 “I think companies and businesses should be more cautious about harmful toxins they are putting into the air,” said a member of the audience, Ashley Bennett, sophomore at the University of Oregon. “The amounts of pollution and carbon emissions I make in a year are not close to the amount that major factories emit in a month.”

Anyone interested in more about global climate change can attend a discussion by Mark Reynolds on April 30at 8th and Oak at 7pm. He will be discussing the development of a Citizens Climate Lobby chapter in Lane County.

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