Americans are less likely to believe in man-made climate change as
economic conditions get tougher, new research at the University of
Connecticut shows. It found that the public's belief in climate change
dropped significantly as the economy dipped and unemployment climbed in
the late 2000s. And the suddenness and timing of the change in popular
opinion can't be explained by politics, accusations of biased media
coverage or weather fluctuations.
The study's based on public opinion surveys dating to the late 1980s -
and the researchers found a stark decline in belief in global warming in
the late 2000s. In 2008, for example, a Gallup poll reported that 60 to
65% of people agreed that global warming is imminent, is not exaggerated
and is agreed upon by scientists as a valid theory. By 2010, though,
those numbers had dropped to about 50%.
The authors also found a strong relationship between jobs and people's
prioritisation of climate change. When the unemployment rate was 4.5%,
an average 60% of people surveyed said climate change had already
started. But when the jobless rate reached 10%, that number dropped to
The researchers suggest that cognitive dissonance - which occurs when
people experience conflicting thoughts and behaviours - could explain
the pattern. Many people view economic growth and environmental
protection to be in conflict, so admitting that climate change is real
but should be ignored in favour of economic growth leads to an internal
philosophical clash. It is less troubling to convince themselves that
there isn't a problem in the first place.