Many Still Do Not Understand The ‘Why’ of Climate Change

Sixty-three percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, but many do not understand why, according to a national study conducted by researchers at Yale University.

The survey, titled “Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change,” found that only 57% know what the greenhouse effect is, only 45% of Americans understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface, and just 50% understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.

Large majorities incorrectly think that the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans cause global warming. Meanwhile, 75% of Americans have never heard of the related problems of ocean acidification or coral bleaching.

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.

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

“This study demonstrates that Americans need to learn more about the causes, impacts and potential solutions to global warming,” says study director Anthony Leiserowitz. “But it also shows that Americans want to learn more about climate change in order to make up their minds and take action.”

The executive summary and full report are available online at

The online survey was conducted by Knowledge Networks from June 24 to July 22, 2010, with 2,030 American adults 18 and older. The margin of sampling error is plus- or minus-2%, with 95% confidence and it was published in 15 th October 2010 on Yale University website.

*Source: Yale University

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