Americans’ knowledge of climate change sadly lacking



A Yale University study has identified a number of important gaps in public knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change.

Overall, the study found that 63 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, but many do not understand why.

In this assessment, only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F.

The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system.

These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that global warming is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks.

Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society. For example, only:

  • 57% know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat;
  • 50% of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities;
  • 45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth's surface;
  • 25% have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification.

Meanwhile, large majorities incorrectly think that the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans contribute to global warming, leading many to incorrectly conclude that banning aerosol spray cans or stopping rockets from punching holes in the ozone layer are viable solutions.

However, many Americans do understand that emissions from cars and trucks and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming, and that a transition to renewable energy sources is an important solution.

In addition, despite the recent controversies over 'climategate' and the 2007 IPCC report, this study finds that Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming.

Americans also recognize their own limited understanding. Only 1 in 10 say that they are 'very well informed' about climate change, and 75 percent say they would like to know more about the issue. Likewise, 75 percent say that schools should teach our children about climate change and 68 percent would welcome a national program to teach Americans more about the issue.

Customer comments

  1. By Mark Harrison on

    Maybe many Americans realize that the theory that global warming is caused mostly by human activities" or that global warming is in fact occuring beyond the "normal" variations of the earth's climate has not yet been proven and that it has become big business for the people who promote the theory.

  2. By David Burgstiner on

    Regardless of what may or may not be real with respect to Climate Change, who may be benefitting from it or who may be harmed by it, I would think that the "Conservative" point of view or action should be one to error on the side of caution. In this case, assume that man or some 3rd-party act of nature or combintation thereof is responsible for accelerated climate change and take practicle steps to slow and hopefully reverse it if possible. By taking the other view of "Whatever! Leave me alone, I'll take care of myself and the earth will take care of herself" is one of pompass, ignorant and careless disgregard! Step back and look what is happening almost everywhere. Entire population centers are being threatened by lack of water resources and unsanitary conditions caused by many man-induced causes. And the human population is approaching its exponential growth curve - that is a fact by the way! Wake up people....time to "step to the plate" and be accountable for our collective impact on this world, while there is still time to do so!!!!

  3. By Mark Harrison on

    I tried but quickly realized it would be foolish to respond to David's comment and I am one of those pompass and ignorant who actually design and implememnt sustainable projects - because they just make sense. What exactly is happening everywhere?

  4. By Meme Mine on

    I refuse to sell my soul on the CO2 issue. The new energy we need now is love, not windmills. I am a progressive-liberal and a former CO2 theory believer and now a part of the rising wave of GREEN CO2 fear mongering deniers. I suggest you faded doomers do the same. The Carbon issue was our Iraq War of WMD lies and obviously, as we see now, wasn’t sustainable with the consensus that counts, with the voters.. So were we the new neocons. We told our kids they wouldn’t have children because there was a climate emergency that “they” needed to fight it to survive. We acted like fear mongering climate cowards condemning our children’s future to a “Death by CO2“. Climate change has done to us what Bush did to the Republican neocons. Are you embarrassed yet? Good. Now it’s safe to say that climatologists and journalists were to science and journalism what abusive priests were to the Catholic Church. Worse still, the Green movement hated “ANYONE” with money, wealth and waste. Not just Jews, as the “you know who’s” did. Preserve, protect and respect the planet, not save and rescue it from a false war. We should have stopped spreading fear and lies like we were Bush Jr. babies and instead lead by example for our kids by facing the future with courage, not fear! Lets’ be REAL liberals again: SYSTEM CHANGE, NOT CLIMATE CHANGE. Birth Control, not Climate Control.

  5. By Meme Mine on

    @David Burgstiner Prcaution? Now THAT'S science. Not good enough to issue a CO2 death threat to my kids, or yours. I'ts like we want a climate crisis to happen. It's all so sick.

  6. By ANN H Csonka on

    I am stunned by some impassioned extreme comments, assertions that nothing is "proven", bizarre disillusion, and deflection to "birth control not climate control". Anthropogenic contribution to climate change/"global warming" is proven. How can anyone work on sustainable design while denying scientific facts? My only reaction in the face of some of these comments is to suggest that people should review the information at the Union of Concerned Scientists website:

  7. By Meme Mine on

    @ANN H Csonka The new deniers are the believers that sanctify their fanatical climate change faith and not admit to the obvious scientific debate that you choose not to see. We non believers are all former believers and you should be happy that the CO2 theory was just a cultural mistake. Why we bowed like fools to a theory that couldn't be proven or disproved is something for the history books. There are enough cracks in Climate Change issue to doubt it all together. Pollution was real,,,, we get it ,,,,ok? Grow some!

  8. By ANN H Csonka on

    My husband is a top scientist and I have worked with scientists most of my life. These are not "believers" to start with, and if you don't get that, you will just have to enjoy your fanatical DISbelieving. We are not "sanctifying" anything.

  9. By Lise Laurin on

    @Meme Mine I just ask three simple questions: 1. Who has the most to gain from this issue? The climate scientists or the big businesses that say that there is no climate change? Which one has more money to influence our thoughts about this? 2. Using resources (especially fuels) wisely saves us all money. So why not work to reduce our fuel use when it might in fact reduce climate change? 3. If an asteroid were about to hit the earth, would you say we shouldn't do anything about it? Manmade or not, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rising at an unprecedented rate. If we can do something to fix that, why not?

  10. By M Hindin on

    Many of the propellents and solvents in aerosol spray cans including many solvent based coatings also contribute to climate change.