How climate skeptics are distributed across America

The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies has data about public perceptions on the facts of global warming. As of 2018, almost twice as many Americans believe global warming is caused by humans as those who disagree (57% to 32%):

Estimated % of adults who think global warming is mostly caused by human activities, 2018

Several things correlate with perceptions of global warming. One is the presence of Hispanics who are much more worried about global warming than most other cultural groups in America. Therefore, areas with a large percentage of Hispanics are more worried about global warming:

The presence of oil and gas extraction is correlated with skepticism about global warming. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Here is an EPA map showing where oil and gas facilities are located. By and large the exploration wells (in green) are areas that are relatively skeptical about global warming.

The refineries (blue triangles) don’t seem to be correlated with public opinion, but refineries are attracted to urban areas where they can attract educated workers and these areas tend to be more worried about global warming. For example, although 70% of Americans believe that global warming is happening, and that is the majority opinion in virtually every county in the US, only 49% of Americans accurately realize that most scientists believe in global warming and they are concentrated in rural, low-education areas.

Estimated % of adults who think global warming is happening, 2018

Since 70% of all Americans believe global warming is happening you would think that they would think that most scientists agree with them and the reality is that somewhere between 95% and 99% of scientists believe it is happening (depending on the study). But only a minority of Americans (49%) believes that scientists think global warming is happening!

Estimated % of adults who believe most scientists think global warming is happening, 2018

The big outliers are the major cities and especially university towns where more scientists are located and more people are educated. Most major cities ARE university towns, but some small rural cities are also the home of large universities like the University of Nebraska and the University of Kansas and Kansas State University which pop out with greater understanding of reality particularly in contrast with the rural areas surrounding them.

As this map from CityLab demonstrates, most college students attend college in big cities because that is where most people live:

The other counties that are exceptionally knowledgeable about global warming are home to university towns where that is the biggest industry in town:

To recap, one thing that is correlated with Americans being led to believe that oil and gas extraction have nothing to do with global warming and that global warming isn’t happening anyhow is…

  • The presence of local oil and gas extraction companies.

Things that are correlated with a more accurate understanding of the scientific consensus about global warming are…

  • Lots of Hispanics.
  • Urban population.
  • Local universities.
Posted in Environment

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