The Pew Center has released new polling data on climate change. The report shows that while 77% of people believe the earth is warming, only 47% believe there is solid evidence that humans are responsible.
Political scientists tend to discount the idea of “demand-driven science” — the idea that, if we provide the general public with more research, their views on policy will change accordingly. While demand-driven science might be wrong in general, I think climate change is a area where it’s true. If more people recognized the strong evidence that humans are likely the primary contributors to today’s warming, their views on policy would indeed change.
This is backed up by Frank Luntz’s infamous strategy memo on climate change:
The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate … The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.
This is further backed up by the effort those opposed to action (e.g., ExxonMobil) have put into maintaining confusion over the science of climate change (see here).
Despite the good efforts of Al Gore and others on this subject, we clearly have some work left to do.