60% of Americans Now Believe Climate Change Caused by Human Action

Just over 60 percent of Americans are convinced that human actions can cause significant changes to global climate over a long period of time, with the occurrence of natural weather disasters wielding considerable influence on their opinions, according to the fifth annual Sense & Sustainability Study released this week.

30 percent of US adults are skeptical while 10 percent are unsure as to the impact of human activity on significant changes in temperature or precipitation over an extended period of time.

Natural weather disasters are cited by more than half (57 percent) of Americans as highly influencing their opinions on climate change. Media coverage of scientific research is also highly influential, cited by 46 percent of Americans. Among skeptics, a small yet substantial number (27 percent) say the opinions of family and trusted acquaintances are significantly influential.

Sense & SustainabilityThe study found water scarcity to be a significant cause of heightened concern for Americans (48 percent), as compared to five years ago. In isolating subgroups according to their attitudes about climate change, water scarcity is among the top three issues for believers (56 percent), skeptics (40 percent) and the unsure (22 percent). Among skeptics, a small yet substantial number (16 percent) point to climate change among issues that cause more concern now as compared to five years ago.

“The results speak to the importance of making big issues like climate change more personal and relatable,” said Ron Loch, SVP and managing director of sustainability consulting at Gibbs & Soell. “Even for those people not affected by an extreme weather event, news of hurricanes, droughts and blizzards evoke fear, concern and empathy.”

“That’s why storytelling is so important when discussing issues of sustainability and social responsibility. It makes the larger problem more relevant and helps gain the kind of attention that can lead to understanding and meaningful action,” he added.

But companies evidently are not doing a good enough job relating their sustainability and social responsibility efforts to the public. Only one in five (21 percent) of those surveyed said they believe the majority of businesses are committed to “going green” — a mere 5 percent increase from the study’s first result five years ago.

The survey was fielded online between January 9 and 13, 2014 among 2,039 U.S. adults. The timeframe of the research coincided with the U.S. National Weather Service’s report of the initial occurrence this year of the North American cold wave, popularly known as the “polar vortex,” from January 2 to 11, 2014.

The increase in climate change awareness is encouraging, but is not as high as it should be. The climate change debate is over, despite what some pundits would like us to believe. Last fall, leading scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced they are 95 percent confident that human influence is the dominant cause of global warming. Statistically speaking, this is a resounding “yes” — climate change is occurring due to human action. As a result of past, present and expected future emissions of carbon dioxide, the effects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if carbon dioxideemissions stop.

Since the 1950s, there has been an unmistakable warming in the climate system and many observed changes are unprecedented over decades and even millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, IPPC says.

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