A Yale University opinion poll shows that the majority of Americans believe global warming is happening, but less than half believe the scientific community agrees that it’s happening.
Michael Mann, Penn State distinguished professor of atmospheric science, calls the disparity the “madhouse effect.”
Yale has created an interactive map of the results gathered in 2016. The map breaks down the university’s findings by state, congressional district, metro areas and counties.
In Centre County, 71 percent of people think that global warming is happening, which is just above the national average of 70 percent. Fifty-two percent of Centre County citizens think that most scientists believe global warming is happening, which is about 3 percent higher than the national average.
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Of the 48 percent of Centre County residents who believe that scientists are at odds on the issue, 29 percent believe that there is “a lot of disagreement.”
Mann’s latest book, “The Madhouse Effect,” tackles the issue head on.
The Yale graduate said disinformation campaigns orchestrated by fossil fuel companies have created a fog around the overwhelming consensus among scientists worldwide that shows climate change is real and is caused by humans.
“A large fraction of the public still thinks that’s contested,” Mann said. “Fossil fuel interests and conservative groups doing their bidding long understood that all they needed to do to prevent action is to confuse and divide the public on the issue. And that’s what they’ve done.”
The poll also shows that 54 percent of Centre County residents believe that global warming is caused by human activity, which is near the national average of 53 percent. Of the 46 percent who believe global warming is not caused by human activity, 32 percent attribute the warming to “natural causes.”
A recent Gallup poll indicates that the acceptance of the science of climate change, and the need to act on the issue, is rising, Mann said.
“That’s because people are now seeing it with their own eyes. The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle, we’re seeing them play out now in real time,” Mann said. “And the past few weeks, with unprecedented monster storms and record heat and wildfire out West, is a stunning reminder of that.”
Hurricane Harvey came ashore near Houston at the end of August and dumped almost 50 inches of rain in some locations, according to the National Weather Service, which caused catastrophic flooding, displaced thousands of people and caused almost $100 billion in damage.
About two weeks later, Hurricane Irma made landfall over the southeast coast of Florida. Prior to making landfall, the storm sustained 185 mph winds for more than 24 hours, which is the longest period winds of that speed have ever been recorded, according to the NWS.
On Wednesday, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico and battered the island nation with sustained winds of 140 mph and dropped 12 to 18 inches of rain, according to the NWS.
Climate scientists, including Mann, have attributed the strength of the hurricanes to warmer ocean waters caused by climate change, but the deniers will continue to exist and no single weather event will likely sway their opinion, Mann said.
In 2016, the climate solutions caucus, a bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives formed to explore policy options that address the “impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate.”
The caucus has 56 members, 28 Republicans and 28 Democrats.
Centre County is part of the 5th Congressional District and is represented by U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, who is not a member of the caucus.
According to the poll, 62 percent of Thompson’s constituents believe that global warming is happening and 48 percent believe it is caused by human activity.
“In the hyper-partisan atmosphere we now find ourselves in, there are diehard climate change deniers who have dug in their heels and no amount of evidence is likely to change their mind,” Mann said. “But we don’t need everyone on board, we just need a governing majority.”