Public Opin. Quart. 71, 444-470 (2007)
Researchers have compiled a comprehensive summary of trends in public opinion about global warming in the U.S.A.
Matthew C. Nisbet at American University and Teresa Myers at Ohio State University collected survey data from the past 20 years. They found that the level of awareness of global warming is strongly related to the amount of media attention paid to the issue. Despite high levels of public awareness in recent years, few Americans have a good understanding of the science behind global warming. In addition, many Americans erroneously believe that there is widespread disagreement among scientists concerning the legitimacy of global warming.
Most Americans support stricter regulations on industries to control emissions, but are opposed to tax hikes on petrol and electricity that would affect consumer behaviour. Many are also in support of solar and wind energy.
15th Global Warming International Conference and Expo, April 2004
Dr. Edward Boyes conducted a survey of 582 high school students in order to determine any common misconceptions about the causes of global warming. The survey mentioned multiple environmental issues, and students were asked to what extent they believed these issues contributed to global warming. The study had many interesting findings about what students believe. For example, roughly 70% of correspondents felt that a reduction in nuclear power would help ease global warming. Students’ also had many misconceptions that seemed to confuse global warming with the depletion of the ozone layer. As can be expected, some of the more obscure misconceptions were prevalent among younger students but decreased with age and education.
Results showed 67% of students thought further education on global warming would be beneficial. Boyes seems to agree with this view, mentioning how important it is for the future generation to know the facts so they can act on more than misconceptions. He advocates especially strongly for educating students on how they can make a difference by individual acts.
Though dozens of surveys on global warming have been completed over the past twenty years, the results have never been compiled into one succinct summary. Matthew Nisbet, assistant professor at American University, gathered results from over seventy surveys in order to create a review of public opinion trends in regards to global warming.
In terms of public awareness and understanding they found that as time progresses and media coverage increases, more people report having heard about global warming, however, even twenty years after global warming has been brought to the attention of the public, few Americans believe that they fully understand the issue. Despite this confusion among the public, most do believe that climate change is prevalent but because of its “creeping nature,” many tend to discount its threats.
In order to stave off global warming most Americans vote to set higher standards for automobile, industry, and CO2 emissions and support spending government money on alternative energy forms.
Nisbet, M. C. and T. Myers. 2007. Twenty years of public opinion about global warming. Public Opinion Quarterly. 71: 444-470.
Public Opinion Quarterly. 71, 444–470 (2007).
Matthew Nisbet and Teresa Myers compiled 20 years of public opinion surveys regarding the issue of climate change providing the first “authoritative summary of their collective findings.” The surveys looked at public awareness and knowledge of global warming, their perceptions of the level of certainty among experts about the issue, their concern about the impacts, their support for policy action in light of economic costs, and support of the Kyoto climate treaty.
This study found that the amount of public awareness regarding the issue highly depends on media coverage, resulting in changing levels of awareness over the years. In addition, global warming usually remains at the lower end of the public’s worries, especially in comparison to water-related pollution. In regards to potential solutions, the general public tended to be more supportive of alternative energy sources and emission limits on industry and automobiles, however less inclined towards the use of nuclear energy and taxes on electricity and gasoline.
In a study by Mathew Nisbet and Teresa Myers published by the Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the two sought to compile a confirmed and definitive summary of public opinion on global warming. In order to accomplish this task, the two sifted trough hundreds of polling questions chosen from over 70 news organization, academic and nonpartisan public opinion surveys that have been distributed over the past 20 years. The study found that as a result of a very little amount of media and news attention, when surveyed in 1986, a mere 39% of the public responded that they “heard or read anything about the greenhouse effect.” However, after a summer with record breaking heat strokes and thus increasing amounts of media attention in the 1990s, the percentage of the public who had heard or read anything about global warming was approximately 80% and passed 90% in 2006. The results of this survey convey a high correlation between public awareness and media coverage. When the public is more directly concerned with and experiencing the detrimental ramifications of a phenomenon, they are more likely to understand and become aware of it. Unfortunately, Ocean Acidification, although posing dire threats to our marine and coastal ecosystems, barely receives media attention. The science behind climate change alone is very complex and therefore the public generally finds it difficult to comprehend and to relate to. However, ocean acidification, just one subtopic of global warming, is an even more arduous concept to grasp, especially without a background in science. As a result, public awareness regarding the understanding and consequences of ocean acidification remains at a very low level. However, if paid more attention to and given more media coverage, the study suggests that public awareness on ocean acidification will drastically increase. If more people are concerned with and aware of the consequences of ocean acidification, it is much more likely that they will join movements towards mitigating its harmful and potentially catastrophic effects.
Nisbet, M. C. and T. Myers. 2007. Twenty years of public opinion about global warming. Public Opinion Quarterly. 71: 444-470.
While global warming and ocean acidification are both caused by manmade carbon-emissions, the gap in public awareness of the two issues is immense. Part of this is due to the fact that signs of global warming were studied years before ocean acidification, as well as the medias constant coverage of global warming. I believe the media is more interested in global warming because of the impact it could eventually have on everyone’s daily life. However, what most people don’t realize is ocean acidification could have an equally large impact. Ocean ecosystem services are an enormous part of our planet’s food supply, economy, and recreation. With ocean acidification occurring at an increasing rate, many of these services may be lost before everyone even realizes what is occurring.
The scientific community is one of the few groups beginning to understand the severity of ocean acidification. Research on the issue has picked up immensely over the last decade, and the results have scientists alarmed. While having data on the issue is critical, scientists cannot do much by themselves to protect the ecosystem services threatened. By working closely with aquaculture managers, however, scientists have the ability to sustain these services in a changing ocean environment.
This combination of aquaculture managers and scientists can work together to adapt to changes already occurring, but to halt the trend of decreasing pH, the general public and politicians need to become more knowledgeable on the situation. For the most part, the general public seems completely unaware of the changes occurring in our oceans. People realize that increased CO2 emissions are doing serious damage to our atmosphere, but have no idea that one-third off all this carbon is soaked up into the oceans. For any meaningful changes to take place, a larger percentage of the public, and in turn politicians, needs to be made aware of the damages ocean acidification can cause. The increase in the public’s awareness of global warming has led to a push towards green energy and other sustainability programs that could ease the burden put on our atmosphere. Yet even with this increased perception of our impact on the planet, no widespread changes have taken effect.
For massive solutions to come into play, politicians must get on board. It is imperative that scientists get the message across about the danger posed by ocean acidification. As of now, there has been very little action by U.S. policymakers to fight ocean acidification. The fact that our book was funded by The National Academies Press, an organization that reports to Congress, is a good sign in that at least some people in Washington have an idea as to what’s going on. However, if ecosystem services are to get any sort of lifeline, politicians must be pressured into taking action, and this action must come from the public.
Throughout history, many laws and policies have been created on topics such as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Though many of these laws, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act do influence ocean acidification, mitigating acidification was not a goal that was set forth when formulating these acts.
In the recent past, and today, ocean acidification has not been at the forefront of concern in terms of protecting the environment. One reason for this is that the topic is simply not as well known as others, such as global warming. Also, because we cannot physically see or feel the effects of ocean acidification (yet) people tend to be unaware of the presence of rising acidity in the sea. Therefore they might think of it as being less important than other environmental issues. When you jump into the ocean, it does not “feel” any more acidic, whereas you can observe climate changes and watch ice caps melting due to global warming.
When crafting policy about environmental preservation and conservation, ocean acidification and the sustainability of ocean ecosystem services should be considered. As research continues on the topic, we learn the effects that ocean acidification will have on our ecosystem, and therefore on the human race, and see why incorporating ocean acidification regulation into our policies and laws is of great importance.
First, incorporating ocean acidification into policy should be done because of the effects ocean acidification may have on the economy. Many people are economically dependent on organisms such as shellfish, clams, and coral reef that are negatively affected by acidification. Over half of the world’s population relies on services directly related to the ocean and without these services billions of dollars would be lost. People rely on the ocean as a food source, a source of income from the sale of products from the sea, as well as a purely beautiful place to visit. If ocean acidification is not mitigated through policy, many aspects of the ocean, and the world, will be lost or changed greatly. The economy and the welfare of many organisms, and therefore our way of life, are at risk.
Raised acidity in ocean waters limits organisms ability to calcify. On coral reefs this means that the skeletal growth of reef building organisms is hindered. Without these organisms, no coral reef structure can exist. Raised acidity also raises the potential for existing reefs to dissolve. Coral reefs are home to over 25% of all known species of fish and exhibit the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem in the entire ocean. Therefore, threats to coral reefs are a threat to thousands of other organisms.
Negative effects on coral reefs are just one example of what ocean acidification can do to ecosystems. To those who peer beneath the sea with a facemask, the exquisite beauty of the coral reef is evident. Ocean acidification is the silent killer that could profoundly affect a place of beauty and incalculable financial importance to our planet. Fisheries could collapse and famine could result. There are so many detrimental effects that can occur to the oceanic environment and the organisms that reside within it that the topic of ocean acidification should be integrated into policy decisions on environmental conservation and preservation.
1) R.P Kelly, M. M. Foley, W. S. Fisher, R. A. Freely, B. S. Halperin, G. G. Waldbusser, Science, 332, 1036 (2011).
2) “Chapter 3.” Ocean Acidification: a National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean. Washington, D.C.: National Academies, 2010. Print.
3) Eilperin, Juliet. “Growing Acidity of Oceans May Kill Corals.” The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – The Washington Post. 5 July 2006. Web. 04 Sept. 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/04/AR2006070400772.html
The key to influencing policy is public demand, and this is the reason why ocean acidification is not addressed politically. Very few people are even aware of the concept of ocean acidification, let alone arguing for change in Congress regarding the subject. The people who do recognize ocean acidification tend to group it with climate change and the melting of the icebergs- as just another inevitable side effect of global warming. Although related to global warming, ocean acidification has its own set of implications on the ocean ecosystems, and consequently, on our own sustainability. If these implications were communicated effectively to the public, it would almost ensure the hasty implementation of policy regarding ocean acidification. However this is essentially the problem: it is extremely difficult to animate people on a subject that is not affecting them currently.
When comparing lobbying against ocean acidification to lobbying against poverty, crime, low standards of education, it is hard not to ask the question, “Is it even right to be thinking of such a seemingly menial issue when so many problematic issues surround us in our daily lives?” It is hard to prioritize these current issues in Congress, let alone something that might affect us years later. Although it seems logical to want to fix first what you are directly faced with, in the case of sustainability this characteristic is a human fallacy. Unlike other problems, unsustainability does not sit stagnant until it will be dealt with. The fact that humans continue to live unsustainably is causing associated problems (global warming, ocean acidification, freshwater depletion, land degradation) to constantly grow worse. Although the pH of the oceans are not yet causing mass fish disappearances, or the falling apart of coral reefs, the point when they will also will be the point of no return.
People have access to research on ocean acidification, to documentaries such as “A Sea Change”, and to many other forms of public information, and most people that take advantage of these recourses are left with a feeling of discomfort, a feeling that something should be done. However, in most cases very little is done to “fix” individual levels of sustainability after that point; this forgetfulness is human nature. But there are instances of hope in the few people that change their entire lifestyle upon realization of implications of living unsustainable. If the proportion of such people that decide to place the Earth’s well-being over the mass concerns of the everyday would increase enough to influence policy, it would consequently cause a slow, but organized and executed, migration toward sustainable living. All we can really do though is continue to try to educate and immerse the public with ocean acidification literature and hope for the best.
Compared to global warming and climate change, ocean acidification is still a less familiar topic to the general public. Although there has been increasing coverage in the media, such as newspaper and magazines, about this ongoing environmental issue, many people are still not aware of its causes and consequences. Since people by nature tend to pay more attention to immediate and tangible effects of certain issue, we can safely guess that even fewer people truly understand that ocean acidification compromises the sustainability of ocean ecosystem, threatening the survival of our future generations. Given this lack of awareness, we can hardly expect any major policies or social movements coming up to tackle this problem. Therefore, I believe the first step to solving the problem of ocean acidification in long-run is to raise the public’s awareness about how it can reduce marine sustainability and lead to decline of well-being of human beings in the future.
So far, there has been an uneven distribution of information about ocean acidification among different groups of audience. Scientists who specialize in ocean chemistry may know how acidification can lead to less sustainable ocean ecosystem in every detail, whereas people living in the interior part of the country whose sore relation with the ocean is buying fish from the supermarket may not have even heard about ocean acidification at all. The problem is that scientists usually publish their papers on scientific journals such as Science magazine, whose target audience are other scientists. Only a small portion of the general public will read those journals and the contents are often too professional for layman to understand. This hinders information flow from scientists to the general public, results in less effective communication between them and reduces understanding about ocean acidification among the public.
Here, we can try to figure out the solution by reviewing how global warming and climate change have become so well-known to public. It is not difficult to realize that the popular media, politicians and education actually played a huge role in ensuring strong presence of the two issues among the public. Al Gole’s Inconvenience Truth presented global warming to the public in an impactful way. Mainstream media such as CNN and BBC regard climate change as a hot topic to draw the public’s attention. Global warming is included in most of the textbooks when talking about greenhouse effects. It is through these ways that the general public is kept in contact with the information about the two issues.
Similarly, I believe raising the public’s awareness about ocean acidification requires efforts from politicians, popular media and educational sectors. Scientists should take the responsibility to first make the policy makers fully aware of the problem of ocean acidification, so that they can possibly become strong advocates. Mainstream media should also focus more on sustainable ocean ecosystem and introduce ocean acidification as a serious environmental issue that will affect our future to the public. Besides, more knowledge about how ocean acidification may cause less sustainable ocean ecosystem can be included in textbooks to make the issue known to our young generation, building solid foundation for solving this problem in the future.