Americans Trust Their 'Own Observations' on Climate Change Over Scientists, Metorologists: Poll

Seventy-nine percent of Americans say they trust their own observations on climate change compared to 78 percent who say they trust scientists and fewer than half who trust the U.S. government.

A majority of Americans, 56 percent, say humans should address climate change through tangible actions "right now," according to a CBS News poll released Sunday. A two-thirds majority of Americans say they believe humans can do something about climate change, but nearly 1-in-5 U.S. adults surveyed say climate change "doesn't need to be addressed" at all.

While 64 percent of Americans said they believe climate change is a "crisis/serious problem," people are far more split on the causes behind it and the information they receive.

Fewer than one-third of Americans surveyed, 29 percent, said they believe human activity and pollution is a cause behind climate change. According to NASA, the average global temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius and 18 of the world's 19 warmest years have happened since 2001.

Regarding information and statistics about climate change, 79 percent of Americans said they trust their "own observations" a lot or at least somewhat, compared to 78 percent who said the same about scientists and scientific research on climate change. About 67 percent of Americans said they trust local meteorologists for trustworthy data on the topic, while about half or fewer than half of Americans trust either mainstream news media outlets or U.S. government agencies.

The poll shows 57 percent of Americans trust the United Nations to be truthful about climate change. A recent U.N. report on global warming warned that if average global temperatures increase by 2 degrees Celsius there could be a massive rise in sea levels and nearly all of the world's coral reefs will die off. The U.N. has cautioned that water supply stress is worsening due to the combined factors of population growth and climate change.

More than one-quarter of Americans surveyed are concerned about the negative effects of climate change -- just not right now. About 26 percent said climate change should be addressed either in "the next few years" or "further in the future."

Despite having the least trust of all information sources, according to the CBS News poll, 13 U.S. federal agencies issued a 2018 report that a warmer planet will put a large dent in the country's GDP. The federal government agencies predicted that if actions to reverse climate change are not enacted immediately, the size of the U.S. economy may be reduced by 10 percent by the end of the century.

U.S. lawmakers including New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have put forth widely divisive legislation such as the Green New Deal to reduce the effects of climate change in addition to reworking the entire U.S. economy in order to address the issue.

"What is not realistic is not responding to the crisis -- not responding with a solution on the scale of the crisis," Ocasio-Cortez said at an NAACP forum last Wednesday. "Because what's not realistic is Miami not existing in a few years. That's not realistic. So, we need to be realistic about the problem."

But Americans are very spread out in terms of what they view as the causes behind climate change and its negative effects. About 39 percent of Americans surveyed in the CBS News poll said they believe "both human & natural patterns" are the root causes. About 29 percent of Americans said they think human activity is behind climate change, while about 10 percent of Americans said climate change is "not happening."

DNC protest climate change debate 2020 democrats
Clayton Northcraft and Suzannah Mullen shout in front of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, during a Greenpeace rally to call for a presidential campaign climate debate on June 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. DNC chairman Tom Perez rejected a request from former presidential candidate Jay Inslee to host a 2020 debate focused solely on climate change. Now, some presidential hopefuls will participate in a climate change town hall hosted by CNN on September 4, 2019. Sarah Silbiger/Getty
This story is part of a Covering Climate Now project from the Columbia Journalism Review.