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Posted on Wed, May 9, 2012 : 11:37 a.m.

Climate Change: Can people change their minds?

By Wayne Baker

0509 ov climate change art.jpg

Where do educators and activists find information to share about climate change? One popular source of online graphics is a website called created in 2007 by Robert A. Rohde, a physics researcher at UC Berkeley. The website was last updated in 2009, but a lot of Rohde’s images and charts have been distributed through Wikimedia Commons. The image, above, shows the dramatic shrinkage of a glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing climate change and American attitudes.

Almost all scientists agree that global warming is taking place and that human activity is a main cause. But the American people are divided. There are “Six Americas” when it comes to attitudes and worries about global warming, as we discussed yesterday and Monday. We certainly don’t have a social consensus now, but is one possible?

Moving from Six Americas to One America would require many people to change their minds about global warming. This is possible, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, because many people are not certain about their opinions.

The Yale group asked respondents to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “I could easily change my mind about global warming.” Of course, not many people at the two extremes agreed. Only 5% of The Alarmed somewhat or strongly agreed that they could easily change their minds. Only 11% of The Dismissive said the same. But there are a lot of people in the other four categories who are open to changing their opinions.

Over a third of The Concerned agreed that they could easily change their minds. Over half of The Cautious (58%) similarly agreed. The vast majority of The Disengaged (73%) said they could easily change their minds. And even three of ten of The Doubtful (29%) said they could do the same.

What would it take for people to make up their minds? More information, and a lot of it, according to the Yale analysts. The groups with the most uncertainty are the most likely to say they need more information about global warming before making up their minds. But even members of the two extreme groups say they could use more information. Over a third of The Concerned say so, as do 17% of The Dismissive.

So, yes, people just might change their minds about global warming.

Could you easily change your mind about global warming?

Do you feel you need more information before making up your mind?

How optimistic are you that we will reach a social consensus?

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.


Diana Hunt

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

If you want to understand the science behind the idea of climate change; the many factors that contribute to it; and why humans appear to have made a difference, then I commend to your attention these books among others: Heidi Cullen's "The Weather of the Future" (most readable!) Fred Pearce's "With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change" Bill McKibben's "The End of Nature" and "eaarth" If you'd like an historical overview of climate's effects on humans, Brian Fagan's "The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization" is fascinating. There are other works out there. These are just some that I've read. But I've noticed that those written by oil-company-funded geologists tend to be long on rhetoric and shorter on science, so check your sources. Cullen's is especially good in relating the findings of climatologists to the direct impacts we will have to deal with: e.g., effects of drought on gardens and food prices; effects of sea level rise on beachfront properties. she also relates them to phenomena that many of us have noticed over the years: warmer winters, changes in rain and snowfall amounts, timing and rates; arrival of certain birds and insects; blooming of spring plants, and so on.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 3:09 a.m.

@ u812, re: "Wow a lot of Mitt Romney na sayers are commenting." In his book No Apology, Romney said, "I believe that climate change is occurring. The reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. That was by no means the first time that he said words to that effect. And lat summer, he said, "I don't speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world's getting warmer. I can't prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that … so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you're seeing.'' Then last fall, he flip-flopped, presumably to appeal to the Faux News crowd: "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us." Earlier in the Primary Zoo Period, the Perry campaign said, "Mitt Romney's positions change, often dramatically, depending on the audience or location... Voters need to consider the fact that Romney, in one week, changed positions on manmade global warming, capping carbon emissions, and Ohio's efforts to curb union powers." ******** So given that anyone, on either side of the so-called "debate," could be called a "na sayer," to whom do you refer?


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 1:53 a.m.

And the earth will cool again and then warm up and then cool..............


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

Edit to add: The above post was supposed to be aimed @ andys. Andy, like many others, seems to see a fiendish conspiracy theory here. I remain at a loss as to how the tin-foil-hat crowd makes such a connection between the Black Helicopters and the supposedly-Mad-climatology-Scientist "conspirators." Someone fill me in.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

Big goverment. Your uncle Sam is always looking out for you. At least thats what they want you to believe. Remember cradle to grave. You don't have to be responsible for anything.One day something is good for you the next day it's not.If they keep you confused enough you won't think for yourself. So do research see how your big goverment has fibbed to you.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:57 a.m.

You certainly have a point that people, as a rule, do tend to "vote their pocketbooks" — it's the rare rich guy who says "I should be taxed more!" as Warren Buffet does! But you lose me at the point where lying about climate change, and falsifying the science, is a money-making proposition for climatologists. Where is the money in perpetuating a myth about climate change? Climatologists will, as a group, make no more, or no less, depending on what conclusions they come to. People also, as a rule, tend to shift their positions when faced with facts. Since climatologists are in possession of more facts around climate change, they should be trusted more than, say, oil-company geologists. Oil-company geologists, on the other hand? The guys with less facts at their disposal re climate change? Want to post your true feelings on your Facebook page and see if you have a job in the AM? — The latest court ruling re thumbs-up/thumbs-down on Facebook (in the Down-South Sheriff election case) is that you can, indeed be fired for voicing your true thoughts! Those oil-company geologists have a LOT to lose! My best HS friend became one. His father, an M.D., commented that this geologist son made more than all of his other kids, all scientists. And more than he, himself, made as a doctor. Throw that oil-company-geologist son's oil-company-geologist wife into the mix, and I think they out-earn the entire family together, all six other incomes. So, OK, take that 97% of climatologists figure with a grain of salt, and knock off a couple of points. Hell, knock off ten points! You're now down to 87% to 13%, when 57 to 43 would be considered a landslide by any measure. Now let's look at those "petroleum geologists," who logged in with 47% believing in "human involvement" in climate change. Given that they would be out a job in a heartbeat for expressing that belief openly, we need to take that figure with not just a grain, but more like a truck-load of road-salt!


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

Power my man power. Not to mention all the money spent on carbon credits that don't work.Scare tactics work so that people will change there habits.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

Wow a lot of Mitt Romney na sayers are commenting.


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 9:19 p.m.

Mother nature runs her own show has since this ball of gas solidified..anyone who believes that " mankind ' has had any major effect on that belongs in the flat earth can sell people anything if you polish it up enough and their dumb enough to believe it.....


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 8:15 p.m.

It's ironic that CO2 levels are peaking while global temperatures are declining at the beginning of every Ice Age. Further, there is a saturation effect with increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. Doubling atmospheric CO2 levels will only increase the amount of absorbed solar energy from CO2 by a much smaller amount (less than 10%). The fundamentals don't add up -- Global Warming is a myth. There appears to be a much better correlation of global temperatures with solar activity. Increasing atmospheric CO2 levels are actually beneficial, and will help the growth of crops and plants. And the next Ice Age will be a lot more worrisome than the Global Warming myth with mile-deep glaciers descending on us.


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 8:04 p.m.

"They're the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you're likely to believe in global warming and humankind's contribution to it." The take home message is that those who make their living off of the existence of man-made global warming (climate scientist) are most likely to believe in it. Astounding!


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

They don't make a living off climate change. There were scientists before 2012, hate to break it to you.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, May 9, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

Global Warming--what Ann Arbor's Mayor says is causing the West Park 'upgrade' to flood neighboring houses. The public might better understand the issue when cheap, clueless politicians stop using the problem as a bumper sticker answer for their own failures in office.


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 4:28 p.m.

In 2009, CNN polled "3146 scientists," according to their story at the time. "The scientists approached were listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute's Directory of Geoscience Departments." The article went on to say, ******** Two questions were key: Have mean global temperatures risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures? About 90 percent of the scientists agreed with the first question and 82 percent the second. The strongest consensus on the causes of global warming came from climatologists who are active in climate research, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in human involvement. "The petroleum geologist response is not too surprising, but the meteorologists' is very interesting," said Peter Doran associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the survey's authors. "Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomenon." However, Doran was not surprised by the near-unanimous agreement by climatologists. "They're the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you're likely to believe in global warming and humankind's contribution to it. "The debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes," said Doran. ******** Of course, CNN isn't Faux News, so their findings are suspect...


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

So explain to me how it is that 14,500 years ago the oceans were 40 ' higher than today,obvious much warmer than today. However now we have reached a tipping point to world destruction. I think Dr if you study the history of the planet,you will see that it is ever changing and that man has no effect. Case in point The CNN tower in Toronto is now over 3' higher than when first built. The ground around the great lakes is pushing up. Also Dr. are you part of the same group that back in the 70's was talking about global freezing?

Superior Twp voter

Wed, May 9, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

"Almost all scientists agree that global warming is taking place and that human activity is a main cause." NOT true, so on that supposition alone the remainder of this opinion piece may well be flawed. I do agree about climate change - yea, it happens daily. Rain moves in, then the sun comes out. The temperature goes up and down. Ho-hum, that's our big planet for you...


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 8:29 p.m.

Oh, and your example about the sun, that's not climate change, it's temperature change.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 8:29 p.m.

Sorry, it IS true.