Polls have consistently shown that Americans’ understanding of global warming grows with an increase in extreme weather events. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, that number continues to grow.
According to a new Rasmussen poll conducted a day before the election and released this morning, 68 percent of American voters said that global warming is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. This represents a major increase over the last few years. In 2009, Rasmussen reported that only 46 percent of Americans believed that global warming is a problem. (Interestingly, while more people say they are concerned about the problem, there was a drop in the number of people who say it’s human caused).
The Rasmussen poll backs up others showing an increase in concern for global warming. An October poll from George Mason University and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication showed that 74 percent of Americans understand that “global warming is affecting weather in the United States” — an increase of 5 points from a March 2012 survey. The Yale/George Mason poll also found that a majority of respondents said global warming made the summer heat wave and Midwest drought worse.
In February, a poll released by the Brookings Institute showed a 7 percent increase in the number of Americans who say that the planet is warming — with that increase influenced by extreme weather events.
The last two years have brought a stunning series of extreme weather events: two record heat waves, an historic drought, above-average destructive wildfires, and two powerful hurricanes that slammed into the East Coast. From January through August of 2012, the U.S. experienced the most extreme period for weather ever recorded, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The world’s largest reinsurance firm, Munich Re, released a report last month concluding that the growing number of weather extremes are a “strong indication of climate change.”
“Climate-driven changes are already evident over the last few decades for severe thunderstorms, for heavy precipitation and flash flooding, for hurricane activity, and for heatwave, drought and wild-fire dynamics in parts of North America.”
“In all likelihood, we have to regard this finding as an initial climate-change footprint in our US loss data from the last four decades. Previously, there had not been such a strong chain of evidence. If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing,” said Peter Höppe, the head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit.
The increase in violent weather is also having a political impact. Although the presidential candidates did not discuss climate change in the final weeks of the debate, the destruction from Superstorm Sandy was the main reason why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama:
Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week’s devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.
When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America….
One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.
After the election, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated that he will try to make climate a bigger issue during Obama’s second term.
Yesterday, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg backed Reid’s comments up: “We will keep fighting for real climate change solutions, such as investments in clean energy, public transportation, and resilient infrastructure that protects communities from extreme weather.”
In his election night speech, President Obama also indicated that he might make climate change a bigger priority.
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” said Obama to his supporters during a victory speech.