Record-breaking temperatures are fueling a shift in the American public’s views toward climate change, according to the latest in a series of public opinion surveys, described in a report by The Guardian.
The survey has been conducted twice every year since 2008, by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College. The most recent survey, from May, showed 73 percent of Americans believe global warming is occurring, and 60 percent believe human activity has played at least some role in causing it. The previous three surveys had all shown that 70 percent of Americans believed in climate change, with 66 percent in the spring 2016 survey prior to those. The new figure is the highest yet, in ten years of surveys.
However, ideology is still a huge factor in climate change opinion. While 90 percent of Democrats believed there was solid evidence of climate change, only 50 percent of Republicans said the same.
That same month was hottest May in the lower 48 states in 124 years of records, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
According to Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion:
“There’s lots of evidence that contemporary weather is a contributing factor to belief in climate change. But there are other factors. People are telling us they are experiencing a climate that isn’t what they remember in the past and the evidence itself, such as declining polar ice, is having an effect. Americans are moving to a lot more confident space on this.”
Record high temperatures have only worsened since May, with 80 million Americans facing heat warnings in the last several weeks, and record temperatures in Southern California, Colorado, and Wyoming. Further east, the Montreal, Canada area has seen 70 deaths linked to the heat wave, and some heat-related deaths have been reported in New York and Pennsylvania as well.
In New York City, a 95-degree Fahrenheit day on July 2nd fueled smog conditions rarely seen in the city in recent years. Measurements from aircraft found ozone concentrations of 150 parts per billion, more than twice the Environmental Protection Agency eight-hour average standard of 70 parts per billion. These hazy conditions are a result of pollutants reacting to intense sunlight, and can cause serious health issues for vulnerable populations.
Borick said the change in public opinion was even shifting the narrative of arguments against climate change action. Since taking office, President Trump has focused on the expense of climate change mitigation, instead of denying the science altogether. Borick noted, though:
“That said, if you want one factor that influences your view on climate change, it’s party affiliation. Age, race and gender don’t even come close.”