Yale University released a national study last week showing that most Americans understand very little about how the climate system works, including the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to global warming.
The study, “Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change” finds that a large majority (63%) of Americans believe global warming is really happening, but many don’t understand why.
Only 8 percent of Americans would score an A or B if this study were an actual university exam. 40 percent would score a C or a D, and a whopping 52% of Americans would get an F, according to Yale.
The study also finds important gaps in knowledge as well as common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system as a whole. These misconceptions are leading some people to doubt that global warming is happening, or that human activities are a major contributor. The study finds many people misunderstand the causes of climate change and therefore the solutions, and are even unaware of the risks.
The Yale study concludes that many Americans lack some important 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;
- Only 50% understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities;
- Only 45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface;
- Only 25% of Americans have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification.
Meanwhile, the study continues, many Americans think incorrectly that the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans contribute to global warming and that banning aerosol spray cans or stopping rockets from “punching holes in the ozone layer” are real potential solutions.
Many Americans do not understand, according to Yale, that emissions from trucks and cars and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to climate change, and that an important solution is a transition from a fossil fuel economy to a clean, renewable energy economy.
Here’s the good news (yes, there is some good news!)
Despite the recent “climategate” controversy and the manufactured scandal over the 2007 IPCC report, the Yale study reports that most Americans trust science and scientific organizations over any other source of information about climate change.
More good news is that Americans are beginning to recognize their own limited understanding of the issue. The study finds only 1 in 10 Americans rank themselves as “very well informed” about climate change, and 3 out of 4 Americans say they’d like to know more.
Finally, 75% of Americans say that schools should be teaching our children about climate change, and 68 percent of Americans say they would welcome a national program to teach Americans about the global warming issue.