Americans' Knowledge of Climate Change Sadly Lacking
University study has identified a number of important gaps in
public knowledge and common misconceptions about climate
Overall, the study found that 63 percent of Americans believe
that global warming is happening, but many do not understand
In this assessment, only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge
equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52
percent would get an F.
The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common
misconceptions about climate change and the earth system.
These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that global
warming is happening or that human activities are a major
contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the
solutions, and to be unaware of the risks.
Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for
informed decision-making in a democratic society. For example,
- 57% know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the
atmosphere that trap heat;
- 50% of Americans understand that global warming is caused
mostly by human activities;
- 45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s
- 25% have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean
Meanwhile, large majorities incorrectly think that the hole in
the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans contribute to global
warming, leading many to incorrectly conclude that banning aerosol
spray cans or stopping rockets from punching holes in the ozone
layer are viable solutions.
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
In addition, despite the recent controversies over “climategate”
and the 2007 IPCC report, this study finds that Americans trust
scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other
source of information about global warming.
Americans also recognize their own limited understanding. Only 1
in 10 say that they are “very well informed” about climate change,
and 75 percent say they would like to know more about the issue.
Likewise, 75 percent say that schools should teach our children
about climate change and 68 percent would welcome a national
program to teach Americans more about the issue.