Polls: Public Belief in Climate Change Remains Strong Following Controversies

At a briefing held yesterday, researchers from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom announced the initial findings of a new survey on the public's perceptions about climate change, which show that the vast majority of Brits still believe in global warming. However, since the researchers' last survey in 2005, this majority has dropped from 91% to 78%. The findings are in agreement with another study announced earlier this week by researchers at Stanford University in California, which found a drop in the number of Americans who believe that climate change is occurring from 84% in 2007 to 74% today.

The British survey sampled more than 1800 people between 6 January and 26 March 2010. While the findings clearly show that most Brits think the climate is warming, only 31% of the people surveyed thought that this was caused mostly or entirely by human activity; 47% of the people polled think that a combination of natural processes and human activity are to blame.

This is the first nationwide academic study in the United Kingdom since last winter's failed Copenhagen talks and the recent Climategate scandal. However, the survey didn't specifically analyze the effects of these controversies, as the questions had already been set before these events. Any last-minute adjustments to this Economic and Social Research Council–funded study would have been "very difficult," said psychologist Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University, who led the study.

Yet Pidgeon believes that the "timing of the fieldwork is critical to the research." He said the recent controversies, combined with the unusual heavy snowfall in Britain last winter, may explain why there has been a small decrease in the percentage of people who believe that the climate is changing. The economic crisis may have also been influential, as well as the public simply becoming "bored with hearing about climate change in the media," he said.

Pidgeon thinks that the public's belief in climate change will rebound now that the media frenzy surrounding the recent controversies has come to an end. He referred to a study by researchers at Yale University and GeorgeMason University in Virginia, announced earlier this week, which showed a 4% rise in public concern about global warming in the United States since the start of the year.

A full copy of the Cardiff University report will be released today.