New public opinion poll on global warming

There is a new Zogby poll on public attitudes in the US towards global warming and the potential connection between severe weather events and climate change.

Unsurprisingly to us (but maybe not to others), most of the US public feel that global warming is happening (around 70%), and roughly the same amount of people report being more or much more convinced of this over the last two years.

More interestingly, the pollsters asked whether people believed that global warming was having an effect on intense hurricanes, droughts, heat waves and the like. Again, roughly 70% of people thought that global warming was having either some effect or a major effect on these weather extremes (note that the question was not phrased to ask whether any specific event was thought likely to have been caused by global warming (which was probably a good choice)).

This begs the question whether people’s experience of severe weather has convinced them that climate change is occuring. Televangelist Pat Robertson, for instance, said very recently that it was the latest heat wave that finally convinced him. I think this is likely to be true for most of the public who are not following the issue very carefully (which is most of them of course!). The most significant single event in this context was probably Katrina, regardless of how much climate change can or can’t be associated with Katrina the Hurricane (let alone Katrina the Disaster!).

I would guess that this is likely to be a very common way for public opinion to be formed across a whole number of issues. That is, when a dominant theme is very prevalent across a wide spectra of media, everyday occurrences or new information are often processed with that in mind, and given our extraordinary ability to see patterns in noisy data, we often end up associating the theme with our own experiences. Other examples surely abound in medical or political contexts.

Given that pattern, it is probably overly optimistic to expect scientists, who continually stress that single weather events can’t in general be attributed to climate change but that changes in statistics might be, to have much success in conveying these finer points to the public directly. Instead, their skills are probably best used in clarifying these points to those (e.g. journalists, policy-makers) that set the dominant themes in the first place.

102 comments on this post.
  1. Eric E:

    This poll is very good news. My brother is a journalist, and he and I had a long conversation recently about how climate science is reported. His basic view is that the media, as a business, essentially has to base their reporting on the public’s understanding of an issue. As long as the public continued to view climate change as a “controversy”, taking a side was viewed as biased. I pointed out that the media has continued to report the “controversy” long after the climate community reached consensus, and did so be reporting the opinions non-climate scientists as a counterpoint to true climate scientists. To which his reply was to remind me that I was a “skeptic” in 1999-2001, and because I was not convinced that climate change was definitively anthropogenic (I basically stand by that, as at the time we still hadn’t established things like whether the ocean is a net source or sink of carbon) I was against conclusively ruling out natural variability. I have since become convinced that natural variability is not responsible, as more and more work has been done.

    The upshot is that it takes time to change the popular narrative, even with an engaged press. If the public has come around to seeing that global warming is real and anthropogenic, we can hold out some hope of political progress. But it’s still going to be awfully slow going to convince people of the pressing nature of the risks.

    [Response: Dear Eric, I started to find the scientific case for anthropogenic warming compelling some time in the mid nineties, and naturally, different observers would come to this conclusion at somewhat different times. But I am puzzled by your comment on oceanic carbon uptake, because this issue has no bearing on the question. By the sixties, it was well-established science that CO2 concentration is rising due to fossil fuel emissions, and in the nineties we certainly knew that the observed rise represents only 57% of what we have emitted. It was therefore clear that the remaing 43% had to be taken up by the natural system, which thus acted as an overall sink – regardless of whether this carbon is in the ocean or elsewhere. At the time you were still skeptical, you could legitimately have been unconvinced that warming is anthropogenic, but not that the CO2 rise is anthropogenic. For questions of science history like this, I again recommend Spencer Weart’s book “The Discovery of Global Warming” and his web site. – Stefan]

  2. John Bolduc:

    I posted this under the previous topic. In contrast with the Zogby poll, the Pew Center poll conducted last June found that 41% viewed global warming as “very serious” and 33% said “somewhat serious”. Only 41% agreed global warming is due to human activity. So most Americans appear to believe global warming is a problem, but a majority does not believe it is due to human activity. So convincing the American public that GHG emissions need to be reduced remains to be accomplished, according to this poll. You can see the poll results at It would be interesting to have the Pew Center poll run again since the June poll preceded the heat wave and the Inconvenient Truth movie.

  3. JP Valentik:

    There’s a lot of research in the psychology litereature about how folks detect trends. The one I always point to is a phenomena called “depressive realism”. Subjects were given randomly blinking lights and a control panel that did nothing to the pattern of blinks. They were told to learn how to control the lights by experimenting with the switches. “Normals” said that they were learning to control the lights, and clinically depressed folks said that the switches didn’t do anything. Why the actual phenomena wasn’t called adaptive optimism or something like that puzzles me. But it does reflect on how the public may put off endorsing strong moves against climate change assuming that they have more control available than is the case.

  4. David Wilson:

    six of one AND half-a-dozen of the other (please): it seems to me that the effective counterforce to global warming will be individual decisions and actions; this is based on cynicism about the effectiveness of governments, as well as a notion that the root cause is individual energy-use patterns (read ‘squandering’); and individuals have to be convinced one-at-a-time

    i have been tempted to say this here before – scientists could better reach people with clear statements, words like ‘multidecadal’ are all very well …

    that said – it sure is good to see a number like 70%

    i trust everyone here has already seen the exposé by Canadian Charles Montgomery in the Globe on the denial lobby in Canada: the Globe keeps their stuff locked up, you can also see it at the guy’s own website:

    be well.

  5. Doug:

    Gavin wisely said: “given our extraordinary ability to see patterns in noisy data, we often end up associating the theme with our own experiences.”

    The “vast right-wing conspirators” ;-) know this all too well, and that’s why FauxNews works so well. The same “noise” is re-re-repeated so often that for some people it becomes their reality. Anyway, that’s how I explain the ’04 election. It’s nice to know that the mainstream media include just enough good noise about climate change to have a positive effect on publicly held reality.

  6. Lance Olsen:

    I’m not convinced that, as Eric phrased it, we can “rule out” natural variablity. A lot has been accomplished in disseminating the evidence that natural variablity plays a small role in the current unfolding changes of climate, and that’s all to the good. But the idea of excluding any of the forcings from public scruting seems risky because the varied forcings can gang up on us, in cumulative effect.

    When I talk about natural variablity to people who are curious about these questions, I tell them that one of the spookiest scenarios is that where natural variablity turns against us at a time when greenhouse forcing is already creating plenty of risk. Double whammy? There may not be a lot of evidence for that right now, but remember, greenhouse forcing has committed to some risk for one to three or more centuries, which offers plenty of opportunity for risks that don’t seem imminent today.

    As I understand it, there are at least four kinds of climate change: natural variation, greenhouse forcing, land-use forcing, and particle forcing (associated with cloud formations that lead to cooling). In the latter case, we’d see a potentially risky situation if efforts to introduce particles happens to be followed by a major volcanic eruption that pushes the cooling in the direction of the Little Dryas.

    University students seem to quickly grasp that the varieties of climatic change can combine, interact, producing a cumulative effect. Maybe the general public can benefit from inclusive discussion of such scenarios.

    Lance Olsen
    Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers
    Missoula Montana

  7. shargash:

    Re #2 & #5

    This is also an effect of the pernicious effect of “he said, she said” faux balance journalism. Reputable journalists are creating an impression of a “split decision” from the experts, while at the same time disreputable journalists and political leaders are aggressively pushing the denialist message. The net impression (depending on one’s mix of news sources and one’s gullibility) is that the denialists have the edge.

  8. Mcwop:

    Ok 70% believe, but the more telling part in the poll is the attitude that major industries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to improve the environment without harming the economy. Translation, the global warming stuff is horrible, but don’t ask/require me to do anything.

  9. Steve Sadlov:

    Lance your concerns are well founded. The network of forcings is complex. There is both constructive and destructive interference between them all. “Rogue waves” are not only possible but in the long run probable. I’d hate to contribute to a “rogue wave” by trying to “fix” the climate.

  10. Hank Roberts:

    In an older topic earlier today, I cited how PR firms are packing weblogs with their spam.

    A poll wouldn’t be susceptible to astroturf — which suggests the weblogs that are so full of denial don’t represent the public, and that people polled have started to understand there’s a problem.

  11. SecularAnimist:

    gavin wrote:

    “… scientists, who continually stress that single weather events can’t in general be attributed to climate change but that changes in statistics might be …”

    Of course a single weather event like Katrina can be “attributed” to climate change.

    If someone smokes two packs a day of cigarettes for decades and then dies of lung cancer, it is entirely appropriate to “attribute” his death from lung cancer to his tobacco smoking, even though some individuals may smoke just as much tobacco for just as long and never get lung cancer, and other individuals who have never smoked tobacco at all get lung cancer and die.

    We know from epidemiology that there is a correlation between smoking tobacco and death from lung cancer, we know the biophysical mechanisms by which the carcinogenic constituents of tobacco smoke cause cancer, and so when we know that a person who died from lung cancer was a lifelong smoker, it is entirely reasonable to attribute his death to smoking.

    Similarly, we know that there is a correlation between observed anthropogenic global warming of the ocean surface waters and the observed increase in the size, power and duration of hurricanes, and we know the physical mechanism by which anthropogenic global warming causes bigger and more powerful hurricanes (and indeed in the specific case of Katrina, it was clearly the abnormally warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico that caused it to explode into a monster after it passed over Florida), so, similarly, it is entirely reasonable to attribute Katrina to anthropogenic global warming.

    I really think that scientists should stop saying that individual extreme weather events cannot be “linked to” or “attributed to” anthropogenic climate change. Of course they can.

    [Response: This soon becomes a debate about the meaning of words like “attribute”. Clearly, it would not be scientifically correct to say about an individual that “he died of cancer because he smoked”, because you can’t be sure about this. You could say “he probably died because he smoked”, which reflects that we know he greatly increased his risk of getting lung cancer by smoking, but there is also a random component to it.
    With hurricanes, it may be useful to distinguish the highly stochastic aspects (like whether and where a tropical storm starts, and what path it takes) from more deterministic physical aspects – namely the effect that high sea surface temperature has on hurricane development. The effect of sea surface temperature (SST) is not a statistical link, it is a direct physical link which acts on each individual hurricane and not just on a statistical ensemble (and is hence used in day-to-day intensity forecasting). I think it is correct to say that high SST has made Katrina stronger along its path and has contributed to the disaster, together with other factors like where it struck and the poor preparation for such a foreseeable event. -Stefan]

  12. Michael Gillenwater:

    Polls like this one (and an earlier poll looking at similar attitudes in other countries) show a growing acceptance that climate change is a real phenomenon. But like in all political polls, you all need to know the intensity of the opinion/feeling and how it ranks in terms of action people think the government should take. It is hear that I still think we have some way to go.

  13. Coby:


    It seems to me you have it exactly backwards, but I don’t know how to explain it as the analogy you used is a very good one to support the opposite point. You can not prove what caused the individual’s lung cancer, though a strong statistical correlation in a population makes that a less than interesting fact when deciding to light up or not.

    WRT Katrina and the summer heat wave convincing people that GW is here and now and a problem, I guess this is just people holding the correct opinion for the wrong reasons and let’s accept it with gratitude.

    It is a dangerous thing to purposely use such things in a misleading way, though, as the next cold snap makes you look like a liar!

    The population is full of misconceptions, I for one do not rank the misconception that Katrina was caused by CO2 as a high priority to correct. I would not say it, and will correct people who say it to me, but I don’t feel any urge to go out of my way to stamp it out.

    Is that wrong?

  14. Jim Redden:

    As more public opinion polls stack up–expressing meaningful collective awareness that humans are a factor in altering climate–the issue will be significant fodder for political election discourse.

    However, what solutions will be ultimately proposed, and the actual effectiveness, holds my keen interest.

    In the course of implementing a near zero carbon lifestyle and economy (that seems to be possible with current technology), it will be interesting how the huge financial stakeholders (coal, oil, nuclear) leverage their media and influence. For example, Paul Scott, of PlugInAmerica, has told me he drives all year, and powers his home using solar (PV) generated electrons. This kind of decentralized power generation, while empowering individuals, changes the order of things with some winners and some losers.

    In agreement, Iâ��d submit the public awareness shift is result of recent Broadcast TV, cable, magazine, Gore movie, and other alternative media climate themed showings–more than any widespread deep cognitive understanding of the issues. Still heartening news, nonetheless.

  15. Margaret M:

    Climate is constantly changing. If you asked these same people if they would rather have the same weather as 250 years ago, they would all say yes. Hell, that was the last part of a mini Ice Age. We have been living in what has probably been the optimum time for our species.
    We shloud not expect it to continue indefinitely.

  16. Tim Burrows:

    I think there is an issue with journalists being sufficiently informed to challenge the politicians that try to shirk their responsibilities with regard to global warming.

    Too often I see articles in which journalists simply accept politicians comments unequivocally. There was a rare case in Australia recently in which a journalist actually challenged a politician on his carbon pricing policy. In this case the politician ended up looking pretty silly, if only more could do the same.

    The situation in Australia is not great in this regard. Our prime minister has decided not to support emissions trading, and even though our states have banded together to create a scheme, there doesn’t seem to be much hope that it is going to get off the ground.

  17. wayne davidson:

    #6, Natural variability is fine, it happens as often as a change of winds, you must take a look, say with a view from the International Space station instead of a look from your living room window.
    Global average temperatures do not deny natural variability, but they show a constant trend, upwards, not like a roller coaster, natural variations occur with ever changing weather systems constantly. A look at the world from afar offers a different conclusion, the back yard view is much more variable, should not be applied convincingly for AGW arguments, not in times of climatic transitions..

  18. Steve Sadlov:

    RE: #15 – Let me share how I run my factory. I look at yield and fall out weekly, QTD, rolling 13 week and on even longer time scales. For the shorter time scales, if I “alarm” on a positive spike, I need to make sure that I alarm at a higher alarm limit than I would for an alarm based on one of the longer time series. Do you understand why I do things this way? Do you understand why the level of innate variation in climate is so important to characterize on many different time scales? Do you understand why “constant trend upwards” statements regarding what is, in terms of Earth history, a short time frame, get challenged?

  19. Leonard Evens:

    I think the best way to explain all this to uninformed people is the analogy of loaded dice. Admit that many factors affect whether or not any particular event occurs, but one of them is the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So increasing that concentration loads the dice in some direction. Climate scientists think they know a reasonable amount about the sort of changes that might occur and an increase of extreme weather events should be one of them. But even if the climate scientists are wrpng about specific predictions, the edfault position should be that something will happen and it is foolhardy to assume it will be benign. The onus should be on those who argue we should continue to increase our emissions of greenhouse gases to show that there will not be significant effects.

  20. Chris Rijk:

    With regards to “Given that pattern, it is probably overly optimistic to expect scientists, who continually stress that single weather events can’t in general be attributed to climate change but that changes in statistics might be, to have much success in conveying these finer points to the public directly.”

    I wonder if it might be better to put this another way (when refering to a particular hurricane for example): Similar events are possible without global warming, so individually are not proof, but higher temperatures do increase the average strength of tropical storms and also the average sea level, both of which increase the danger from storm surges.

  21. Carl Christensen:

    For perspective let’s not forget that in previous polls 75% of Americans were convinced that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11!

  22. Wacki:


    WRT Katrina and the summer heat wave convincing people that GW is here and now and a problem, I guess this is just people holding the correct opinion for the wrong reasons and let’s accept it with gratitude.

    It is a dangerous thing to purposely use such things in a misleading way, though, as the next cold snap makes you look like a liar!

    When they say this I simply respond “Remember it’s global averages that are important”.

    The population is full of misconceptions, I for one do not rank the misconception that Katrina was caused by CO2 as a high priority to correct. I would not say it, and will correct people who say it to me, but I don’t feel any urge to go out of my way to stamp it out.

    Did you read Dr. Curry’s paper? Given the info in table #1 and the fact that we are still 10 years from the peak I’m not sure you are correct when you say this is a “misconception”. Yes, we can’t know for sure with regard to any specific storm but the stats are shocking.

    “The strength of the tropical storm activity during the period of 1995â��2005 (which is at least a decade away from the expected peak of the current AMO cycle), relative to the previous maximum 11-year period of 1945â��55 (Table 1), shows a 50% increase in the total number of tropical storms, number of hurricanes, and number of category-4 and -5


  23. Dan Robinson:

    Re #6
    Concern about unpredictable random events shouldn’t be used to determine action. They can either amplify or counteract actions, for good or bad. Global climate change, by itself, is net bad, at least in that people have to move to follow the desired climate, and probably change their technologies. Counteracting it is, in that sense, net good. On the other hand, change is how evolution happens.

    If we or nature went too far in cooling the earth, yes, people would have to move. But ice piled high on land at the poles would drop the sea level and make much more land available at shore lines in temperate and tropical areas, plus, on the average, probably improve weather in those areas.

  24. Dano:

    RE 10 (Hank Roberts):

    Hank, that’s a good link.

    I started the Dano character after watching the spam on TCS, after the then-CA Governor announced a ‘Kyoto-lite’ for the state and that day a number of commenters from Michigan gave instructions on how to start a recall and further detailed actions.

    The issue is how certain public dialogue is gamed. I believe that polls can reflect astroturf activity, and that websites can mobilize a demographic to action – galvanization is the key to public action and spam can serve to galvanize. That the poll numbers mentioned in the post are steady, however, may indicate across a broad spectrum spam is ineffective (but I don’t think that’s the point – concentrated action is).



  25. Dan Robinson:

    I forgot to include a couple of thoughts on #22. Do what you think is best based on predictable senarios, and be prepared for all most likely outcomes.

  26. pat neuman:

    … Televangelist Pat Robertson, for instance, said very recently that it was the latest heat wave that finally convinced him. …

    Some people don’t think of heat waves as being severe weather events even though heat waves contribute much to many weather related problems: heavy power use, less work, worsening drought, fires and heat fatalities. In the US, July is usually the warmest month of the year.

    July of 2006 was very warm for much of the US … ‘the U.S nationally averaged temperature during July was 77.2°F (25.1°C), 2nd warmest July on record.’ …

    The first week of August was also very warm in the Midwest and Northeast (4-8 degrees F above ‘normal’ for July 30 – Aug 5, 2006, according to the DOC/DOA Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin.

    How much of the six week (July 1- Aug 6, 2006) heat in the US could be viewed as just due to variability in weather and how much could be viewed as due to global warming?

  27. Robert Wagner:

    I wish someone would evaluate the heat released from the munitions in escalating world conflict. This could be a contributing factor also. Climate depends on millions of factors. Since man began to smelt metals the C02 has been on the rise.

  28. Alex Tolley:

    I think it is dangerous to be happy that the public believes GW for the wrong reasons. This is suscptible to backfiring on the next reversal.

    Scientists could do a lot better in communicating complex ideas – but unfortunately there are few gifted like Carl Sagan to do so. Nevertheless, ensuring that the public understands the basic science would be of immense benefit in counteracting the disinformation promulgated by GW deniers.

  29. Mark A. York:

    I just ran across this weatherman’s view.

    This continues to be alarming but not in the way trained professionals like this claim. You have to blame individual political leanings on this. Just Count the fallacies.

  30. Rod Brick:

    re #11 by by SecularAnimist: Sounds much like impeccable and erudite analysis leading to preposterous conclusions. So, some smoke and never get cancer, others don’t smoke and get cancer, and yet others smoke and get cancer. The latter is an AHA! moment???!!! Other than matching some pre-conceived notion, it’s on the surface silly.

  31. Rod Brick:

    I don’t understand the concern over polling. Are we waiting for the right percentage to prove our notion, as in science through democracy? Or is it just the excitment of converting sheep to follow the herd of independent minds? In either case, I’m afraid science is not a democratic process; though advocacy is.

    Sorry, I’m just an old lay scientist iconoclast trying to keep everyone’s feet on the ground.

  32. Chuck Booth:

    The insurance industry seems to accept anthropogenic global warming as real:

    From today’s Hartford (CT) Courant (excerpt)

    Many Insurers Thinking Green – They’re Offering New Products, Services Aimed At Reducing Global Warming
    August 23, 2006
    By DIANE LEVICK, Courant Staff Writer

    While global warming poses the danger of heavier losses for insurers, the industry has started to mine the business opportunities by offering products aimed at mitigating the environmental problem – along with claims, a new report says.

    Some insurers are using new premium credits and risk management programs that will encourage more energy-efficient construction and driving and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said a study issued Tuesday by the Ceres coalition of investors and environmental groups.
    But more companies need to adopt innovative approaches to tackle the problem over the long term, the report said.

    Global warming, fueled by the emission of such gases as carbon dioxide, is believed to be changing climate and leading to more intense hurricanes, droughts, floods and wildfires. The study comes nearly a year after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, causing an estimated $45 billion of insured damage, a record for a hurricane.

    “Climate change is perhaps the greatest threat the insurance industry has ever faced,” said Ceres President Mindy S. Lubber during a teleconference Tuesday. “And the time has come to assert its leadership again.”

    Many insurers have raised rates, imposed new or higher wind deductibles, and shrunk their business in hurricane-exposed areas, and the report says they’re forgoing about $3 billion a year in premiums as a result. In Florida and Louisiana alone, more than 600,000 homeowners’ policies were dropped or not renewed in the past year, the report said.

    The increased risk, however, “creates vast opportunities for new products and services” to help consumers and businesses reduce their losses while reducing pollution and its climate effects, Lubber said.

    The report identifies 190 such products and services that are either available or under development at dozens of insurance companies, brokers and other insurance organizations in 16 countries.

    Fireman’s Fund, for example, is introducing premium credits for certified “green,” or energy-efficient, commercial buildings. The company also plans new green products, including a provision to replace conventional damaged property with improved energy-efficient property.

    General Motors’ GMAC Insurance offers mileage-based discounts of 5 to 40 percent using its Onstar technology to track driving patterns, the Ceres report says. Although other insurers have long asked how many miles people drive, they tend to have larger mileage categories with more limited breaks on premiums…

    The St. Paul Travelers Cos. is rolling out premium discounts for hybrid electric-gasoline vehicles, saying data shows drivers of hybrids are less likely to have accidents than people who drive gasoline-powered vehicles.

    Insurers can also provide coverage for carbon-reduction capital projects and consulting services in designing and managing such projects, Ceres said.

    In addition, some insurers are stepping in to cover risks involved in “carbon trading.” Many countries are capping their greenhouse gas emissions, and businesses that can’t meet their emissions targets can buy credits from those who are below targets.

    American International Group and broker Marsh & McLennan Cos. have launched carbon emissions credit guarantees, and the carbon-trading market in the European Union, alone, is expected to hit $30 billion by the end of this year, the Ceres report said.
    I suppose an optimist might say this is a conservative business decision to protect the industry’s bottom line that also provides much-needed incentives for people to make environmentally sound decisions. On the other hand, a pessimist might argue that the insurance industry is merely exploiting AGW to ,and drop risky policies; insurance underwriters will likely benefit whether global warming is real, or not (or less severe than predicted).

  33. Coby:

    Robert, in #24

    The scale of heat released by human activity is on a vastly different scale than what is involved in global atmosphere and ocean systems. I can’t crunch those specific numbers, but here is a telling quote:

    A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20×10^13 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 10^13 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.

  34. Edward Greisch:

    Concerning comment 4 and Professor Ball: It doesn’t matter whether the climate change is natural or human-caused. Starvation kills you just as dead either way. See the book: “The Long Summer, How Climate Changed Civilization” by Brian Fagan
    2004 Basic Books
    ISBN 0-465-02281-2
    Summary: Smaller climate changes than the one we have made so far have caused the fall of many civilizations. Brian Fagan lists more civilizations that fell because of minor climate changes than I ever knew existed.
    So what are you going to do when Iowa becomes a desert and the price of bread reaches $10 per slice? Regardless of the cause of the climate change, we have to control the climate or die. We have to keep the climate stable and optimal for the agricultural technology that we already have. New technology can’t be deployed instantly no matter how fast it is invented. And the next famine will be global. We could loose 6 Billion people, including those rich business people and Professor Ball.

  35. Brad Arnold:

    Placing responsibility for individual weather events with global warming is a fool’s game. Yet, increased forest fires, more severe and widespread heat waves and draughts, larger and more powerful storms, are all predictable consequences of global warming.

    Most predicable, a warming earth will soon start to emit considerably more greenhouse gases than humans. Carbon sinks will become carbon emitters-like forests, permafrost, and the oceans. Particularly alarming is melting methane hydrate, which likely has caused severe bouts of global warming in the past.

    • There is an estimated 400 billion tons of methane trapped in permafrost ice.

    • An estimated 50% of surface permafrost will melt by 2050, and 90% by 2100.

    • Methane is more than 20 times as strong a greenhouse gas as CO2-the sudden release of just 35 billion tons of methane would be like doubling the CO2 in the air.

    • Ocean bottom ice will start to melt-releasing some of the estimated 10,000 billion tons of methane trapped in it.

  36. Eachran:

    John Bolduc, post 2, the Pew poll is interesting but what should be worrying is that people put a very low priority on doing anything about the problem. There is a difference between Democrats and Republicans but even Democrats put global warming barely higher than immigration as an issue to be dealt with. I would be curious to see how high the issue climbs in people’s priorities when mass migration starts to happen.

    It is interesting to see that Spain and France are two countries which are particularly worried about the issue. One can guess why and it probably has something to do with water shortages in both territories. France has already predicted a fall in agricultural yields for this year. Spain of course is in the front line for people fleeing Africa.

    The Economist about two issues ago published a good special on The Horn of Africa detailing drought, famine and over-population as plaguing that particular part of the earth’s surface – leaving aside the unremitting violence in that region.

    I hope that The Horn of Africa is not a model that we will all follow shortly.

  37. Sonja Christiansen:

    What will the public believe after a few cold winters or even years? Human memory is very short and our climate observations short and disputed.

    Relying on public feelings and evangelists for ‘evidence’ is surely no way to run public policy. A sign of desperation by teh ‘global warming ‘alarmists’? Or is it a sign of the failure of populism?

    The idea of humans changing climate is by no means new and has been
    used for political purposes for centuries, if not longer. Just another
    version of the politics of fear, note it is always the future that will be worse, diverting attention from present problems.

    Not so long ago it was the next ice age, then the death of the oceans, then the population bomb, limits to growth and the death of the forests from acid rain. People like to be scared, and when there is money to be made out of the scares as well (not always!) they get taken up by insurance companies, research and then regulators – get ‘institutionalised’. Supportive scientists get the limelight, for a while.

    Beware of another green myth! It will cost you dear (but may enhance energy security and will certainly bring nuclear power back to the ‘West’. It is well on the way…

  38. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Re #23 and “change is how evolution happens.”

    So what? Volcanoes exploding is how Pacific islands are built. Does that make volcanoes a good thing? The fact that evolution takes place doesn’t mean we have to help it along. Natural selection works by time and death — whose children do you want to die so that evolution can be helped along?


  39. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Re #37 and “The idea of humans changing climate is by no means new and has been used for political purposes for centuries, if not longer. Just another version of the politics of fear, note it is always the future that will be worse, diverting attention from present problems.”

    This is an ad hominem argument. If you have evidence that anthropogenic global warming isn’t happening, present your evidence. Insulting those who disagree with you gets you nowhere.


  40. Dan:

    re: 39. Quite true. Furthermore, the very idea that a layman thinks they know more then the consensus of literally thousands of climate scientists throughout the world and essentially every major scientific society across the world is probably the ultimate height of sheer arrogance. Sadly such insults without facts or data within the realm of science are part of the skeptics/denialists repertoire when the science does not support them. This was also recently seen following the release of “An Incovenient Truth” with many attacks on former VP Gore that had nothing or very little to do with the scientific issue.

  41. Eric (skeptic):

    Coby #33, the 10 trillion watts of energy (1990) you mention is dwarfed by the couple watts per sq meter for anthropogenic GH gasses over 500 trillion square meters of earth. Also the hurricane energy is being absorbed elsewhere, not additional, so it can’t be compared to the anthropogenic energy inputs.

  42. Leonard Evens:

    I keep getting mailings from Senator John McCain about doing something about global warming. There is a reasonable chance that, whichever party prevails, we may have an administration committed to controlling greenhouse gas emissions in 2009. Changing Congress may take longer, but it seems likely the US will change direction significantly in the next 5-10 years. If the US starts providing leadership, it may have a significant global influence, and China and India may be brought on board. Unfortunately, even when the commitment is made, it can take some time for changes to actually be made, so we may not have that long to wait.

  43. Florifulgurator:

    Re #37: You read too much Crichton. Forget Crichton.

  44. Coby:

    Hi Eric (currently #44),

    I have no disagreement with what you say. The figures were only intended to illustrate the vastly different scales of heat energy between global climate systems (if a single hurricane involves that much energy, imagine how much is in the system) and human activity, specifically heat released from weaponry (if it takes a ten Mt bomb/20 min to match one hurricane, clearly the current use of weaponry will not have a significant global impact).

    Re changing US political rhetoric: this is clearly a hopeful thing, but the challenges are far from met by simply having some campaign promises. Even if a passionate advocate such as Al Gore ran and won the presidency, the entrenched corporate powers will not roll over easily. The democrates are always appealing when the Republicans are in power, but so far the kinds of fundamental changes needed never seem to occur.

    But hope burns eternal…

  45. Chris Mooney:

    This is just one of many polls on this subject; for the full context people should read this as well:

  46. wayne davidson:

    #29 Mark, Amazing, a name calling meteorologist claiming that AGW has no facts backing it up, without explaining the current warming trend, aside from its “natural”, with oozing assurances that the great urban sprawl of humanity, I suppose also found in the Arctic (with huge temperature increases of late), explains the flaws in GT records. May be during the Miocene, the time when CO2 concentrations was about the same as now, there was a lot of Polar ice? Or this alligator skull found on Ellesmere Island was moved in flight by argentavis seeking to have lunch in a cold place?

    Now, seriously, what is needed is a meteorologist or anyone with a contary view, specifically finding the flaw not found by those 2000 IPCC scientists. Such a claim must be scientifically compelling, not like name calling. I’ve read many such poorly researched articles, they have the same easy to read slant, totally designed for mass consumption, designed to steer away the public from a proper course of reasoning.

  47. Steve Sadlov:

    “with oozing assurances that the great urban sprawl of humanity”

    How about something more scientific, such as the areal distribution of humanity. A density function of course.

    A transform, related to the level of development, could be applied, leading to reasonable estimates of anthropogenic energy dissipation / power / work. Classic stuff, work applied at an interface. Hey, guess what, it’s one o’ dem boundary condition thingies!

  48. Hank Roberts:

    > munitions

    I’ve wondered, not about heat released, but about how much biologically (eventually) available iron and nitrogen got flushed into the ocean during and after WWII. I suspect it’s trivial (at the rate sunken ships and aircraft would rust, anyhow) compared to annual windblown iron-containing dust. And for explosives, I’d imagine the value of those as fertilizer are trivial compared to nitrogen oxides in rainfall from internal combustion engines.

  49. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 29

    Mark, thanks for providing the link to “Global warming or global whining/”

    The man cannot fathom the source of increased CO2 concentration except to surmize it must be attributed to bad breath.

    However, one legitimate peer responded with the following letter to the editor. In the interest of full disclosure, it read as follows:

    Physicist rebuts meteorologist

    I am writing to respond to Jim Woodmencey’s article “Global warming or global whining?” from the August 2-8 2006 edition of Planet Jackson Hole. It is evident from Mr. Woodmencey’s article that he was galvanized by Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” albeit not in a manner intended by the filmmakers. On this, at least, we agree. I found the movie in question to contain as much hyperbole as sound scientific reasoning. But countering one set of ill-formed conclusions with another serves no one. The asymmetry here is that Mr. Gore has little substantive background in atmospheric science whereas Mr. Woodmencey has a degree in meteorology and ought to know better.

    Among atmospheric scientists, physicists, oceanographers and others who study Earth’s energy balance there is virtually no debate on either the existence or the causes of global warming. The mechanisms for global warming are among the most well understood in climate research and are really not all that difficult to grasp. Although it is true that climate on Earth has vacillated (in some cases wildly) in past epochs there is no evidence in the anecdotal, historical or paleoclimatological records of a strong simultaneous upswing in both carbon dioxide concentration and temperature in such a compact temporal signature.

    To claim that scientists do not understand how to subtract background readings from temperature data is laughable. To further downplay the significance of a global increase of 0.5 degrees C in temperature in 100 years reflects an astounding ignorance of how sensitive the ocean-atmospheric system is to perturbation. If Mr. Woodmencey really believes that humans contribute substantially to global warming due to respiratory processes then he is welcome to hold his breath for as long as he wishes but scientists are able to largely identify CO2 in the atmosphere by source. The significant increase in atmospheric C02 levels is not due to breathing, it is due to changes in land use and use of the atmosphere as an industrial CO2 dump for the past 150 years.

    Mr. Woodmencey’s article reaches its height of inadvertent humor when he complains about Mr. Gore’s “connect the dots” graphics while simultaneously claiming that a 20 percent increase in atmospheric CO2 in less than 50 years isn’t really significant because it represents only an increase from 0.0315 to 0.0380 percent. I’m guessing that neither chemistry nor statistics are Mr. Woodmencey’s strong suits as that statistically very significant increase is largely responsible for a rapid and increasingly dramatic change in climate that we are currently experiencing.

    Is global warming real? Yes. Do we know the causes? Almost certainly. Can increases in tropical storm frequency and ferocity be linked to global warming? Yes, though due to the complex nature of boundary conditions in the atmosphere the link is statistical. Do we know where climate change is going? That’s a little more speculative but most of the computer models have been good at predicting what we’ve seen to date (except that they consistently err on the conservative side) and future trends do appear to indicate an exponential increase in global warming, at least in the short term. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. But change is coming.

    Martin Hackworth
    Idaho State University
    Department of Physics

  50. SecularAnimist:

    Jim Redden wrote in #14: “As more public opinion polls stack up–expressing meaningful collective awareness that humans are a factor in altering climate–the issue will be significant fodder for political election discourse. However, what solutions will be ultimately proposed, and the actual effectiveness, holds my keen interest.”

    Independent (formerly Republican) Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont introduced a bill in the Senate on July 20 that would require, among other things, that the USA reduce its GHG emissions by 2020 to 1990 levels, and by 2050 to 80 percent below 1990 levels. Sounds good to me. More info: