by Daniel Brown
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, one of the foremost research groups studying public perceptions of climate change, recently released an updated version of their famed climate opinion maps.
These maps show how fundamental understanding of climate change differs across the country, and the newest edition raises many interesting findings. Here are a few points that jump out:
Massachusetts residents have slowly but surely improved in their understanding that climate change is real and caused by our use of fossil fuels. More than 97% of climate scientists have published research confirming or acknowledging this fact. About 62% of Massachusetts residents understand it. That’s not great, but it’s 5% better than the national average.New Hampshire, Maine, and Pennsylvania show a below-average level of understanding of the fact that climate change is real and human-caused, which makes them out-of-place in the Northeast. We clearly need to do a better job of talking with friends and family in those states about climate change.
Overall, states with a better understanding of climate change tend to lean left in elections. Those with a lower understanding tend to lean to the political right. While climate change is a scientific fact and shouldn’t reflect partisan preference, this is a striking visual. It shows the lingering damage of climate change denial campaigns by special interest groups that have made the issue a political one. What’s encouraging for Massachusetts is that every county in the state showed above-average understanding regardless of political or social differences.
In many states, including Massachusetts, public understanding is sufficiently high for political leaders to take meaningful action to fight climate change. But even in most of those states, leaders have not yet implemented actions on the ground. While Massachusetts is generally considered ahead of the curve, we are still falling behind on large-scale actions recommended by climate scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The maps highlight a need for all of us to talk about climate change often among our own social networks, to put pressure on our political leaders to take action, and lead by example in whatever ways we can.
Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator