15 March 2011

Less U.S. concern for climate change

Posted by Callan Bentley

A new poll by Gallup suggests that the proportion of the U.S. population concerned about climate change has dropped to an almost record low (51% of the “polled population worrying about climate change a great deal/fair amount”). The data are interesting to look at:


I thought I detected a little pattern here with the numbers waxing and waning, and so I went to NASA’s GISS dataset for the U.S. temperature anomaly to check out my hunch:


Aha! Sure enough!

Can’t see it? Let me put the two graphs together on the same temporal scale:

They both peak and fall in tandem. If it’s hotter out than it was last year, people worry about climate change. If it’s colder out than it was last year, they don’t worry as much. For the time in which they overlap, the two data sets show a beautiful correlation.

In terms of people’s opinion? …It’s the weather, stupid.

But we’ve only been polling people about climate change since 1989. We have temperature records that go back a lot further than that — it’s a more robust data set. If you fit a trend line to the temperature data, it shows a positive slope. If you fit a trend line to the opinion data, it’s a flat-liner.

Therein lies the problem.