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Health, Science & Environment

USU Geographer Maps Opinions on Global Warming

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USU and Yale University
Researchers at Yale University and Utah State University developed a statistical model on climate change opinions that yields unprecedented geographic detail.

Researchers at Utah State University and Yale University have mapped public opinion about global warming across the US. Their study published Monday in Nature Climate Change reveals the diversity of opinions at state and local levels.

A majority of people in every state believe that climate change is happening, but the numbers vary. Nationally, an average of 63% say they are believers. In Utah, it’s 60%.  Peter Howe is an Assistant Professor at Utah State University and lead author of the paper.

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Credit USU
Peter D. Howe, Assistant Professor, Department of Environment & Society, Utah State University

“We’re a little bit lower from the national average, but not substantially lower,” Howe says. “For comparison, a state like California has about 70% of people who believe that global warming is happening, and our neighboring state of Colorado has about 66% of people.” At the local level, there’s a lot of variation. In Summit County, 65% of people think global warming is happening, compared to 48% in Emery County.

The study doesn’t attempt to answer why people think the way they do, but Howe says significant factors appear to be political persuasion, levels of education, and ethnic background. Hispanics and Latinos, for instance, are more likely to believe in global warming and to be concerned about it. 

“It’s now possible to see what policies tend to be more or less supported, and what people generally think about the issue at this local level, where many of the decisions about how to respond to global warming will likely take place,” Howe says.

The study also surveyed people about whether they were worried about global warming, whether it’s caused by humans, if they believe it will harm people, and what types of policies they would support to address it. Howe says now that we have consistent data at a local level, we can start trying to understand what is driving public opinions… and how they change.

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