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Global Warming Splits Us in Six

Twice a year, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication surveys a random sample of the adult American population to find out how our nation is responding to global environmental change. This survey is called “Climate Change in the American Mind.” In addition to the more basic questions—think “Do you believe global warming is human-caused?”—researchers at Yale endeavor to identify how Americans fall into distinct groups based on their views of global warming. Why?

“People understand global warming in very different ways, and we’ve identified what we call Global Warming’s Six Americas—six different ‘clusters’ of Americans, ranging from those who believe it is happening and demand urgent action to those who think it’s all a hoax,” Research Director Geoff Feinberg tells me. “We try to understand who these people are and what environmental policies might they support or oppose, among other things.”

The study holds background information, in the way of demographics, in high regard so that its results are representative not of our nation as one entity, but of our nation as it really is: a distinct, yet overlapping, map of viewpoints. And it turns out that the U.S. is mapped into six categories (“Global Warming’s Six Americas,” Nov 2013):

16% Alarmed
27% Concerned
23% Cautious
5% Disengaged
12% Doubtful
15% Dismissive

Full descriptions, including interesting analyses of category-specific tendencies, can be viewed here, but the gist is this: On a number of issues, we are not as divided as you might think. Many Americans want their elected officials to take action on global warming and the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. Twenty-nine percent have joined or would join a campaign to convince elected officials to reduce global warming, and both Republicans (62%) and Democrats (82%) wish to provide tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels.

“We see a group of respondents writing congresspeople, in addition to doing things personally that can slow global warming. There is steady support for [political, environmental] action.” Yale’s survey stands behind this claim: 36 percent of Americans have joined or would join a campaign to convince elected officials to pass laws increasing energy efficiency.

When I asked for a “take-away,” Feinberg said, “As a nation, let’s talk more about global warming, do what we can to make it more of a national conversation, and do it in a way that is smart and respectful to people who might not take our point of view.” The Six Americas study allows us to see into the minds of those whose opinions differ from our own. It is possible to have more productive conversations about global warming, and to do so in ways that aren’t socially uncomfortable.

One resource that boils this information down—and makes it more than usable on a day-to-day—is the Skeptical Science app, available for iOS here or Android here. It simply and cleanly lays out multiple sides to the global warming debate, and at three levels that can be catered towards the depth of conversation you’re having.

Click here to view a brief, easy-to-read list on Americans’ actions to limit global warming, courtesy of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Connect with Piper @PiperStullLane

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