'Americans Are Waking Up': Two Thirds Say Climate Crisis Must Be Addressed
By Oliver Milman
Two-thirds of Americans believe climate change is either a crisis or a serious problem, with a majority wanting immediate action to address global heating and its damaging consequences, major new polling has found.
Amid a Democratic primary shaped by unprecedented alarm over the climate crisis and an insurgent youth climate movement that is sweeping the world, the polling shows substantial if uneven support for tackling the issue.
More than a quarter of Americans questioned in the new CBS News poll consider climate change a "crisis", with a further 36 percent defining it as a "serious problem". Two in 10 respondents said it was a minor problem, with just 16 percent considering it not worrisome at all.
More than half of polled Americans said they wanted the climate crisis to be confronted right away, with smaller groups happy to wait a few more years and just 18 percent rejecting any need to act.
"Americans are finally beginning waking up to the existential threat that the climate emergency poses to our society," said Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Climate Mobilization Project. "This is huge progress for our movement – and it's young people that have been primarily responsible for that."
But while nearly all of those questioned accept that the climate is changing, there appears to be lingering confusion over why and scientists' confidence over the causes.
There is a consensus among climate scientists that the world is heating up due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels for electricity generation and transportation, as well as cutting down forests. However, just 44 percent of poll respondents said human activity was a major contributor to climate change. More than a quarter said our impact was minor or nonexistent.
There is an even starker split on the findings of climate scientists. According to the CBS poll, 52 percent of Americans say "scientists agree that humans are a main cause" of the climate crisis, with 48 percent claiming there is disagreement among experts.
"This remains a vitally important misunderstanding – if you believe global warming is just a natural cycle, you're unlikely to support policies intended to reduce carbon pollution, like regulations and taxes," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which has made similar findings in its own, long-running polling.
"These results also again confirm a long-standing problem, which is that many Americans still believe scientists themselves are uncertain whether human-caused global warming is happening.
"Our own and others' research has repeatedly found that this is a critical misunderstanding, promoted by the fossil fuel industry for decades, in order to sow doubt, increase public uncertainty and thus keep people stuck in the status quo, in a 'wait and see' mode."
Similar to previous polls, the CBS research finds sharp ideological differences in attitudes to the climate crisis. While nearly seven in 10 Democratic voters understand that humans significantly influence the climate and 80 percent want immediate action, just 20 percent of Republicans think humans are a primary cause and barely a quarter want rapid action.
On the science, nearly three-quarters of Democrats said almost all experts agree that humans are driving climate change, with just 29 percent of Republicans saying the same.
Age is another key variable. While 70 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds think climate change is a serious problem or crisis, just 58 percent over 65 concur. Younger people are far more likely to consider it a personal responsibility to address the climate crisis and to believe that a transition to 100 percent renewable energy is viable.
Young people have been galvanized by climate science being taught in schools as well as a spreading global activist movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who started a wave of school walkouts to demand action. Thunberg recently arrived in the U.S. on a solar-powered yacht, ahead of a major United Nations climate summit in New York on 23 September.
This generational divide even cuts across party affiliation, with two-thirds of Republican voters aged under 45 considering it their duty to address the climate crisis, according to the CBS poll. Just 38 percent of Republicans aged over 45 feel the same.
"Younger Republicans are much more convinced climate change is a crisis and are supportive of action than older Republicans – which has big implications for the future of the party," said Leiserowitz.
Around three-quarters of all respondents said they understand that climate change is melting the Arctic, raising sea levels and causing warmer summers. A further two-thirds accept that hurricanes will be made more severe by global heating. Hurricane Dorian, which recently devastated parts of the Bahamas, made 38 percent of Americans more concerned about the climate crisis, with 56 percent unswayed.
Leiserowitz said that the relationship between extreme weather events and concern over climate change is a complex one, with people already worried the most likely to say that their alarm has increased when a major storm or flood hits.
Regardless of concern over climate change there appears to be skepticism among Americans about how much humans can do about it. Just 19 percent said humans can stop rising temperatures and the associated impacts, with nearly half thinking it possible to slow but not stop the changes and 23 percent refusing to believe humans can do anything at all.
This may well influence the views of leading presidential contenders' climate plans. Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, for example, has proposed a rapid remodeling of society where planet-warming emissions from transport and power generation are eradicated within just 11 years.
"By saying we should merely slow and not reverse global warming, we are passively accepting the deaths of billions of people," said Margaret Klein Salamon, of the Climate Mobilization Project.
"The only thing that can protect us is an all-out, all-hands on deck mobilization, like we did during the second world war. Avoiding the collapse of civilization and restoring a safe climate should be every government's top priority – at the national, state, and local levels."
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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