Why are American’s so distrustful about Climate Change?

Throughout all of these articles, one thing was definitely clear, climate change is happening. I am terribly confused about how all of these articles say that it is a fact, all of the scientists say it is a fact, but still such a large population of American does not believe that this is an issue. David Roepik’s article Lessons in Risk Perception from Rising Climate Change Concern, had some very interesting outlooks on this issue, stating that many people don’t want to believe because it is a scary subject. This issue has people so enraged on both ends of the spectrum. As stated in The Battle Over Climate Science by Tom Clynes, climate change scientists are receiving death threats from people who are convinced that the science behind this is fabricated. Bill McKibben’s article Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, show how people do not think enough is being done to correct the effects of global warming, including how the government is not taking enough steps.

This collection of articles shows a vast array of issues surrounding the climate change, including the lack of acceptance of it being a valid issue, the passion of people who are against it (like the man who scouted out Wikipedia to ensure that global warming was not mentioned in the Hurricane Sandy article), how the government will take steps to help the issue, and how to educate American’s on what they can do and what the problem is.


1. Why do you think there is such a disconnect between the citizens of America and what journalists and scientists are saying when it comes to the subject of climate change? Do you think it is a result of media coverage, or because people do not see this in their backyard yet?

2. Do you think steps like what the LA Times has taken, where they have stated that they will no longer publish opinion pieces that are against climate change, are good? Do they harm people’s right to an opinion, or that it is a great way to ensure good journalism?

3. Political satire shows are becoming increasingly popular. Do you think that shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report do a good job at reporting the news in a fair way? Does humor help or is it not a good way to report?


About justinenicholesmith

Art and Design major at the University of Michigan.

5 Responses to “Why are American’s so distrustful about Climate Change?”

  1. This is in response to your first question. I think it’s a combination of both the media and that most people aren’t able to see the changes in their backyard yet. The media portrays the predictions and statistics produced by research in a way that terrifies its audience rather than giving them hope and ways they can easily do something to address it now. Also, global warming happens slowly over time, which makes it hard for people to realize that it’s actually happening. If they don’t see it or realize the reality of the situation, they’re less motivated to care and do something about it.

  2. It is extremely disheartening to read these sorts of articles and know that a very large percentage of people in this country still do not believe that Climate Change is an issue. Back in 2008, the United States saw its highest percentage of believers nationally. However, the pending economic crisis quickly captured public attention and since then climate change has sunk down to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list. I really liked the Rolling Stone’s article which I have actually read for 2 or 3 other classes here. While I think it is a bit doom-and-gloom pessimistic, it does a great job at making numbers tangible. I think climate change is very difficult for individuals to grasp because we cannot see it. We do not see carbon being released into the atmosphere and even when catastrophic climate patterns emerge, we’re quick to brush them to the way side for what we can see right in front of us (as Colbert made light of and the video on climate change crock of the week illustrated). The Bloomberg article ‘Record Heat Wave Pushes U.S. Belief in Climate Change to 70%’ made it apparent that the observable weather patterns can function as big influences on public perception of climate change. In addition, I think that journalism has, for a very long time, presented both pro and con perspectives when it comes to discussions of climate change. This has created a very unbalanced discussion of the topic. While the rest of the world long ago agreed that climate change is real and alive, we have been painting this picture that its still a contested opinion based phenomenon. The L.A. Times decision to remove opinion pieces that claim that human behavior is not influencing climate change is fantastic, but it shouldn’t be news. That should simply be the norm. The James Lawrence Powell article on ‘Science and Global Warming’ really sums up the overwhelming agreement from the scientific community that climate change has strong anthropogenic roots. The pie chart graph that he uses to summarize his findings in sifting through over 10,000 peer-reviewed climate articles to only find 2 that rejected man-made global warming is very powerful. These are the sorts of stories that need to be discussed and put forth in the news. Even more unfortunate is the public backlash that can be traced to elected officials who support climate change. While there are successful cap and trade and cap and dividend programs springing up around the world, even here in the continental United States (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI on the east coast), these programs are not being highlighted. Americans are not hearing about these sorts of successful programs in the media and I think that further isolates our population from the discussion of climate change solutions. If we’re not talking about the issue realistically, and how the world is seeking to solve the problem, then how can we ever advance both legislatively and socially?

  3. A lot of the disbelief concerning the validity of climate change can be attributed to where people fall on the political spectrum. Since the 1970’s environmental issues have been a liberal, almost altruistic effort. Environmental issues were clumped together with social rehabilitation programs and a growth of the federal government. Republicans, traditionally weary of big government spending except when explicitly necessary, have spoken out against the validity of climate change because they simply did not think the government should spend time or money on the issue. Due to these differing opinions, climate change and environmental issues have long been used as a political leverage tool by politicians. Unfortunately a vast majority of americans base their views about the environment on the positions of their political leaders. However, all of this is changing due to the direct economic impacts of climate change. As the correlation between climate change and extreme storms such as hurricane Katrina grows stronger, the direct economic impact of climate change is bolstered.
    I though i personally believe in the validity of climate change, i do not think that publications such as the LA times should ban any article arguing the validity of climate change. Although the science clearly points toward the validity of climate change, the evidence leaves a small room of doubt. Furthermore, the direct effect of climate change upon the life of the average american is hard to pin point. It is the publications job to lay the facts both for and against climate change and then let the people decide.

  4. I definitely agree with a lot of what was stated here.

    The news has surely covered the issue tenfold, however since the first characteristic “polar bear on ice chunk” photo, Americans have clearly chosen to turn an eye, rather than face the ugly truth.

    I agree that it is absolutely an issue of not yet seeing the full effects of global warming “in one’s backyard.” We live in a society that smokes, does drugs, and many other habits that in the log term are absolutely terrible for our bodies, but for the short term the instant gratification is enough to numb ourselves to the future.

    Scientists such all Bill Nye and the like have done a magnificent job of taking the media’s nose and pointing it at the mess, but overall I think it is going to take more than a couple of great reporters, like Tom Clynes, to win over generations of ignorance

  5. I definitely think that part of the reason people aren’t accepting it is because it hasn’t been seen in their own backyard yet. Another reason is that it is hard to face that we ourselves are responsible for this destruction of natural resources, and as said earlier, it is easier to turn the blind eye if it is not directly in our line of vision. The article the guest speaker told us about, explaining that polar bears are now displaying more violent behavior against humans because they are starving due to global warming is important because it forces people to address what is really happening. I have mixed feelings about the LA Times decision. While i understand that it is important to make a change and not keep perpetuating the problem of people denying that there is a real issue here, I also know that opinion pieces are important to keep people intrigued and interested. Lastly, I think humor is a great way to spread awareness of this type of issue. Those people you mentioned make fun of people who don’t believe in climate change and global warming and even though it seems mean, it must make them re-evaluate why a good portion of the nation is laughing at the people who haven’t faced that climate change is a real issue. I don’t think humor is a good reporting style for all issues, but on something so broadly scientifically proven yet still argued it is a good way to make the non-believers re-evaluate, while providing comic relief to the others. Great post, Justine! Very thought provoking.

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