March 31, 2008
Greater Knowledge Of Global Warming Breeds Apathy

The more they know the less most people care. Anyone want to offer an explanation for this response?

COLLEGE STATION – The more you know the less you care – at least that seems to be the case with global warming. A telephone survey of 1,093 Americans by two Texas A&M University political scientists and a former colleague indicates that trend, as explained in their recent article in the peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis.

“More informed respondents both feel less personally responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming,” states the article, titled “Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the USA.”

The study showed high levels of confidence in scientists among Americans led to a decreased sense of responsibility for global warming.

The diminished concern and sense of responsibility flies in the face of awareness campaigns about climate change, such as in the movies An Inconvenient Truth and Ice Age: The Meltdown and in the mainstream media’s escalating emphasis on the trend.

The research was conducted by Paul M. Kellstedt, a political science associate professor at Texas A&M; Arnold Vedlitz, Bob Bullock Chair in Government and Public Policy at Texas A&M’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service; and Sammy Zahran, formerly of Texas A&M and now an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University.

Does just looking at Al Gore cause people to fall asleep? Or am I an outlier on this?

Maybe if people think scientists are all on top of it that scientists will figure out solutions. Someone's working the issue. Not to worry?

Maybe the perceived immensity of the problem breeds a feeling of hopelessness?

Maybe fear of the known is less than fear of the unknown? A well characterized problem strikes people as something they know how to work around? (don't buy that ocean front mansion in Fort Lauderdale - as if you could afford it anyhow)

I already think we should stop building coal-fired electric power plants for another reason: cleaner air down at ground level. We should switch to nuclear, solar, and wind. With excellent batteries we could shift most transportation to electric power and breathe cleaner air. I believe the amount of extractable oil and natural gas left is so small that only coal can cause climate problems. (and also see this PDF of a presentation by David Rutledge of CalTech)

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 March 31 04:33 AM  Climate Policy

Ned said at March 31, 2008 8:35 AM:

Or maybe it's because the more people learn about the issue, the more they realize that man-made global warming is a hoax perpetrated by lefties with an anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-development agenda. Of course, these folks have the answer, which includes higher taxes, more regulations, more government and the transfer of power to a self-selected, self-renewing, politically correct elite. Those who depend on the MSM for their understanding will be taken in by this scam, but those who bother to study the issue for themselves will realize that climate change has been occurring ever since the earth was born and will continue until this planet is swallowed up by the dying sun, all with little or no input from human beings. I'll believe that global warming is a problem when people who say it's a problem, like Al Gore, with his huge house, his heated swimming pool and his private jet trips, start acting like its a problem.

Jake said at March 31, 2008 8:48 AM:

Maybe the people are reading the tremendous number of reports that indicate there has been no global warming in the past 10 years. And for the past two years we have entered a period of global cooling as almost all astrophysicists predicted years ago.

Maybe the people were turned off by learning that Al Gore made $30 million in global warming speaking fees in the last 7 years.

Larry said at March 31, 2008 9:36 AM:

On those days when I lean toward believing in AGW, I think back to Lomborg's "Cool It" and remind myself that focusing on other actions can help more people faster. On the other days, I look forward to getting the plug-in hybrid and its great acceleration and great mileage that will be my next car.

Happily the technical innovations that will eventually wean us off of carbon are coming in faster than ever, primarily because capitalists have figured out that energy is a vastly larger market than tech, and the R&D they're funding is steadily cracking through the technology issues that keep us addicted.

TTT said at March 31, 2008 1:03 PM:

I think the reason is that :

1) The more people learn about GLOBAL warming, they eventually learn that China, not the US, is the biggest polluter.

2) They see that GLOBAL warming is populated by anti-US nuts.

3) They thus see that the most fervent activists are more interested in taxing the US, rather than addressing their beloved Communist China.

Most global warming advocates refuse to consider China, hence losing credibily in their claims that they actually care about GLOBAL warming.

aa2 said at March 31, 2008 2:22 PM:

For me the more I learned about the global warming theory the more I saw anti-capitalist, anti-development usual suspects pushing it, just like Ned says. Their plan as per usual is for middle class people to accept a much lower standard of living, and more government control of our lives. Which was their plan before they ever heard of global warming.

Another factor is you see extreme global warming policies in little tiny countries like the Netherlands. Well even if the Netherlands produced 0 carbon emissions it wouldn't make any difference to the global picture. So the more a person in the Netherlands reads about it the less they are going to support radical policies to fight it.

Lyle said at March 31, 2008 3:12 PM:

*sigh*, your blog's comments depress me sometimes Randall. Phrases like "hoax perpetrated by lefties," anti-US accusations, etc., show lazy thinking that don't say much for the analytical skills of the posters.

The biggest flaw in their posts is that the commenters fail to acknowledge that the climate is a complex system with many factors. In any individual year or decade, there will be fluctuations. It is the long-term trend that should be examined.

Stating that it's all a hoax just isn't backed by the evidence I've seen, but I acknowledge that my analysis could be wrong. I think that I could be shown evidence that could change my mind within a reasonable time frame (7-10 years). However, I've found that many of your commenters tend to look at the issue from an emotional perspective related to politics rather than a scientific one. I think that's dangerous since cherry picked facts are used rather than a point-explanation examination that may shed light on the underlying causes.

Many of the hoax accusers seem blind to the fact that if they are wrong, there could be drastic consequences. I appreciate your perspective since you advocate proposals that would have a beneficial effect on health while hedging against the possibility of man-made warming. This hedging is extremely practical in that I don't believe the evidence is strong enough for extreme economic changes, but policy changes that clean up emissions shown to be harmful to human health while focusing on nuclear power, increased fuel economy, and battery research are all good ideas that can be implemented while more data is gathered.

Your proposals also seem like a good idea since the invective used on this board makes it seem to me that a vocal minority of the public would oppose reforms based on global warming alone - even if the reforms were something they could agree with otherwise.

K said at March 31, 2008 7:17 PM:

I think there is a natural learning curve that reduces concern.

When a person first hears of AGW it will probably be from a media that always pushes the worst case. The media thrives on alarm and sensationalism.

If interested, said person will then look for more detailed information. That leads to some moderate presentations. I followed that path. About all I have decided is that the worst case is quite unlikely, yet AGW isn't a hoax i.e. conspiracy, and there are many vested interests who will lie to retain advantages or gain advantages. We will find out by careful investigation; no amount of sophistry will disguise the temperatures of coming decades.

The best way to handle the matter is for the US to reduce use of fossil fuels. They will be exhausted sooner or later anyway, they pollute (besides CO2), and protecting sources leads to international conflicts, bloated defense spending, and economic distortions. And CO2 emissions will fall in due course if fossil fuels are phased out.

I also advocate that we don't exert much effort telling others what to do. If the EU wants to become super clean at any cost or China cares not at all we ultimately have little control over the matter.

Jim said at March 31, 2008 8:02 PM:

Ned stated things well from a political perspective - it is always valuable to look for who profits from a trend.

Scientifically, it is impossible to prove the theory of global warming. The earth is most likely warming; it has been for the past several millennia (thankfully), and CO2 and CH4, etc. most likely have a minor self-reinforcing effect in this brief trend (~ppm), but this is no reason to relinquish control of the right to emit "greenhouse gases"... kinda important for breathing and farting, etc.... you know - freedom.

More importantly, the global warming movement distracts from the real motivations for improved efficiency and green power.

It shouldn't be about blaming it on people as an excuse to raise taxes.

It's because of fixed supply and growing demand.


Paul F. Dietz said at March 31, 2008 9:25 PM:

Scientifically, it is impossible to prove the theory of global warming.

Sure it's possible. We just have to do the experiment. Which, in fact, we are doing.

David Govett said at March 31, 2008 11:34 PM:

One expects bias from mass media, but when ostensibly objective scientists from all fields substitute belief for fact, one stops listening to them. Is climate changing? It's always changing. Is the change attributable to the sun or man? Since the sun comprises about 99.9% of the matter in the solar system, I tend to believe solar cycles rather than the puny outgassing of man.

cancer_,man said at April 1, 2008 1:22 AM:

Then again, maybe they aren't energy neo-luddites like Randall who assume things won't change much in the next decade.

Jim said at April 1, 2008 6:09 AM:

Paul - what's our control planet with other variables besides humans held constant?

without this control planet, it's still just speculation, not proof.

I think many scientists go along with political 'global warming' because they just see it as a simple white lie that advances their desires for green power

Lyle Dietz said at April 1, 2008 6:51 AM:

But the experiment is DIS-PROVING manmade warming, and pointing to the sun.

What DO they teach in schools? Oh yeah--they don't teach, they indoctrinate.

Ned said at April 1, 2008 8:06 AM:

Today's Al Gore "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" Award for best Web site goes to:

The Concourse of Hypocrisy! (

Ken said at April 1, 2008 3:15 PM:

Randall, if ever you lose the studied skepticism about AGW and accept that it has a scientifically sound basis, a lot of your readers will go wild. Could be when we get the next strong el nino or an ice free arctic (probably together) but whilst we have a la nina the appearance of reduced warming will give the doubters something to shout about. Whilst the critics like things nice and simple (it's the sun, CO2 verses Surface Temperatures doesn't match, Al Gore has a big house and makes lots of money) the real scientists go on including every measurable influence, both + & - , doing their best to make sense of multiple complex variables. Anti US conspiracies just don't cut it as any kind of motivation for scientists and the institutions they work for. I do find it bizarre that people in the land of exhaust pipes and smokestacks can find it so difficult to imagine changing the proportions of gases in the atmosphere is inconsequential. But I suppose they have a vested interest in exhaust pipes and smokestacks and want desperately to keep them.

I will go on taking my climate science from scientific bodies like NCAR, Hadley, NAS, NASA, and the IPCC etc. I think you ought to as well, but I won't hold my breath.

Jim said at April 1, 2008 4:53 PM:

"Anti US conspiracies just don't cut it as any kind of motivation for scientists"

yeah, but research grants do.

if we believe Gore & Co.:

1) global warming is happening at crisis rates that will endanger humans and ecosystems.
2) gw is caused by man (feel guilty when you're done feeling afraid).
3) feasible reductions in the RATE of CO2 emissions will have a significant effect worth our sacrifices to mitigate #1.
4) taxes, international regulation treaties, and general government intervention are the ways to achieve #3.

I have difficulty accepting this series of premises as a basis of surrendering yet more personal and national freedom. #1 and #2 are probably partially true. Research on the topic should and will continue, especially to find low-cost, big-impact items, but Kyoto is silly at best and sinister at worst.

In the meantime market forces of supply and demand move energy efficient and green technologies ahead for unrelated motivations.

Really, direct government intervention isn't likely the solution - just look how well a good-sounding policy like ethanol has turned out....I don't think that tax dollars should be spent to drive up the price of food without much (if any) improvement in fuel consumption.

Paul F. Dietz said at April 1, 2008 7:16 PM:

yeah, but research grants do.

The budgets of the big oil companies dwarf the climatology research grant budgets, and they have hundreds of billions of dollars at stake. If money is indeed corrupting, we can conclude the denialists are far more corrupt than those sounding the climate alarm.

I do wonder at the denialists who post hoary, well-debunked nonsense like 'global warming stopped ten years ago' without getting paid. Stalin called people like that 'useful idiots'.

Ken Mitchell, Citrus Heights, CA said at April 1, 2008 7:58 PM:

The problem with "global warming" is that the math doesn't work. Literally.

Take any of the climate models currently being used to "predict" "global warming". Feed into it all of the data up until 1980, and see what it says. It sure doesn't predict today's weather, and that's kind of the point; if given the past, the model doesn't predict today, then there's something wrong with the model.

I think a better long-term indicator is historical studies. And while "past trends do not guarantee future results", the long term climate CYCLES are fairly apparent. The world was warmer in Roman times than in the "dark ages"; we know that because Romans grew wine grapes in London, something that was impossible during the Norse invasions, because it was too cold. Fast-forward a few hundred years, and we see dairy farms in Greenland, and Vikings in "Vinland", which we know as Labrador. The "Global Climate Optimim" of 900-1400 was substantially warmer than today, and the "little ice age" that followed was substantially cooler. Fact: George Washington's troops dragged cannon across the frozen Hudson River. Fact: the Hudson no longer freezes.

Wikipedia, which is occasionally useful, notes many of these facts at And if you'll look at the "hockey stick" graph on that page which purports to predict massive warming; Let's just say that Prof. Mann was "selective" in his data, which can't be replicated, and which the WSJ and many climate researchers claim is inaccurate.

I don't KNOW that global warming is a hoax, or even just wrong. But it would be a shame to bankrupt the economy of the most advanced technological nation in the world, when technology is likely to resolve most of the problems, and when the global warming supporters don't seem to have all of their ducks in a row here.

Prove it; THEN I'll believe it. Because there's a bigger threat than global warming, and one that ONLY a high-tech civilization can save us from, and that's the ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY of another "Dinosaur Killer" asteroid strike. It has happened many times before. It'll happen many times again, unless we or our descendants can prevent it - or survive it elsewhere. Today? No. This week? Unlikely. Next century? We CAN'T know.

but in the long run, just remember; a few degrees of global warming will be a minor inconvenience compared to another Chicxulub.

Randall Parker said at April 1, 2008 8:34 PM:


Humans are very tribal. They don't want to admit it. They want to think they are more rational than that. But I hear Steven Stills singing "mostly carrying signs saying hurray for our side".

Hoaxes: The problem is that on any one issue there are people on both sides for highly irrational reasons (sticking up for their tribe) in addition to others who are more rational and empirical. Partly that's because people can't judge the real evidence (I for one am not an atmospheric physicist). So they use proxies. They look who is for or against as a way to decide where they stand.

This leads to numerous tragedies. Look at the Republicans who still support the war in Iraq. Democrats do the same thing.

Lyle Dietz,

What they teach in school depends on what you major in. Sure, you'll get indoctrinated if you take environmental studies. But if you take physics or chemistry or math or engineering you'll learn real and real hard stuff.


IPCC has a big error in their models: They assume we have more fossil fuels than we probably have.

Taking my climate science from big institutions: I'd prefer to listen to individuals. Toward that end I've brought up the subject with a couple of people who have the right skills (Ph.D. researcher types including a guy who studies other planets in this solar system) and got a lot of scoffing at the certainty with which we are expected to believe the predictions.

I think the evidence is still out on how sensitive the climate is to CO2 increases. I think we are only in trouble if those who predict higher sensitivity are right. Even if we are in trouble for that reason Gregory Benford says we can cool the planet pretty cheaply. Though if we only had a few more trillion barrels of oil extractable from the ground I'd be more concerned. My main concern at this point is over ocean acidity.

I am therefore more worried about Peak Oil than overheating the planet. Though if people want to restrict coal burning in order to prevent global warming I'm happy to go along with them in order to reduce pollution by particulates, mercury, etc.

Randall Parker said at April 1, 2008 9:22 PM:


I'm an energy neo-luddite? I'm expecting big progress in cutting the cost of solar photovoltaics. Just because I'm also expecting a larger decline in available energy due to declining oil and natural gas production does not mean I'm an energy neo-luddite.

I realize you are unhappy with my view that Peak Oil is close. But you are really stretching here.

Jim said at April 2, 2008 11:10 AM:

Actually, when you learn more about global warming you realize that AGW, a legitimate theory 10 years ago, isn't very compelling today.

Ten years ago we knew.
1. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that has been increasing for the past 10 years based upon human activity.
2. Temperature has be rising during that same period. Coincidence isn't proof, but point 3 seemed to give us a smoking gun.
3. Ice core readings showed a lock step rise of CO2 followed by a rise in temperature over the past 400,000 years.
4. There were no other candidates for the cause of the warming.

Since that time we have learned the following.
2. There was a period from 1940 to the mid 1970s where CO2 increased substantially, but temperatures didn't.
3. Better readings of ice cores showed that temperature rose and then CO2 rose with a lag of as much as 900 years between the two. Effect cannot preceed cause.
4. It was proven that cosmic raise help to cause cloud formation. Sunspot activity shields the earth from cosmic rays which causes fewer clouds. We have been in a period of intense sunspot activity during the rise in temperature and we are now in a period of minimal sunspot activity. There is about a ten year lag between temperature changes and sunspot changes. It has now been 10 years.

Jim said at April 2, 2008 11:12 AM:

Current studies show us that the oceans haven't warmed since 2003 when the Argo system was launched and if global warming is occurring then 80 to 90 percent of it involves warming up the oceans.. The results of 5 years with 3000 robots continually checking the temperature of the water at up to 3000 foot depths? "There has been a very slight cooling, but not anything really significant," says Josh Willis at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

And the surface temperatures also hasn't been rising for the past decade. AGW proponents like to say that 5 of the highest average temperatures ever recorded have occured in the past 10 years. This is absolute slight of hand on their part. If I heat up water to close to boiling and check the temperature each minute and then turn the heat off and continue to monitor the temperature, the next five minute are likely to be among the warmest I’ve measure even though the water is cooling.

The reason the more you know, the less you worry about it is because the more you know the less there is to worry about. Al Gore is a global warming profiteer and so much money has been invested already that if the proponents acknowledged what is happening, a great deal of money would be lost to them.

Lorne McClinton said at April 2, 2008 2:14 PM:

While it's always interesting to read all the pro and anti global warming arguments I don't think that was the question. The question Randall asked is why are people less likely to act the more they know about global warming.

The problem isn't that politicians or anyone else for that matter is for or against greenhouse gas reduction. The problem is that doing anything major to reduce carbon emissions will require people to make major sacrifices and changes to their lifestyle. Anyone who knows anything about human nature knows how difficult it is to get people to change. It took 40 years of constant pushing to drop cigarette smoking rates from 60% to 20%. Saying that people should reduce greenhouse gases is actually quite different then showing people how it could be done. No one wants to tell you how to do it because no one really knows how you could do it even moderately painlessly. How do you make major cutbacks to your personal carbon emissions? How much driving can you really cut back? How many want to cut meat out of their diets? How many would or could grow their own in season garden vegetables?

My opinion is that the more you know about reducing your carbon footprint the more daunting the scale of the problem becomes. In Canada, as of 2005, the average Canadian was personally responsible for 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. (24 if you count the oilsands and the rest of the countries industrial output.) But assuming you aren't the majority shareholder of Syncrude or Suncor and that you have little say in those emissions, lets just stick with those you can have a direct effect on, your own. To reach Canada's Kyoto target each Canadian personally has to cut 4 nearly tonnes of CO2 emissions from their carbon footprint to drop it from 11 tonnes to a little more than 7.25 tonnes. That means a family of 4 would need to cut out approximately 15 tonnes of carbon. If you don't cut them out someone else has to agree to take on your emissions in addition to their own.

Replacing 5 incandescent bulbs in your home will save .15 tonnes/year. The average Canadian has 30 fixtures in their house so switching all would save .9 tonnes/year (would also drop $150 off your electricity bill). However .9 tonne savings is a far cry from 16. This means reducing your carbon footprint would involve a major lifestyle change, it likely means giving up your car and certainly means cutting out vacation air travel. Carbon credits are a bit of a joke and bare more resemblance to the medieval practice of selling indulgences. Pay us money and your sins are forgiven. I think environmentalists do their cause a great disservice by suggesting reducing greenhouse gases is simple or easy. The more you look into it the more you realize it is neither and you realize that the simplest, and perhaps even the most rational course of action is to do nothing and hope somebody comes along a saves us.

DowlanSmith said at April 2, 2008 3:05 PM:

Let's reverse the headline.

"Study shows that those most concerned about global warming don't know that much about global warming"

That sounds about right.

Greg Bentord said at April 2, 2008 4:20 PM:

DowlanSmith puts it well. If you know anything about current climate trends, you're not concerned about global warming.

cancer_man said at April 2, 2008 8:19 PM:

"I'm an energy neo-luddite? I'm expecting big progress in cutting the cost of solar photovoltaics. Just because I'm also expecting a larger decline in available energy due to declining oil and natural gas production does not mean I'm an energy neo-luddite. I realize you are unhappy with my view that Peak Oil is close. But you are really stretching here."

But it is a neo-luddite (techno skeptic might be a better term) position to assume, as others who warn of Peak Oil do, that technology won't continue to find more oil and that a wide range of energy won't be developed. This despite recent large oil finds due to ultra deep drilling and progress in alternative energy. The global warming alarmists share the neo-luddite attitude and many get angry when scientists suggest there will be many changes well before global warming would continue into higher ranges. Often, they are reporters or activists who have never taken a science course past high school.

There may be global warming deniers but there are just as many technology deniers.

averros said at April 2, 2008 10:58 PM:

Any person who believes that computer models of complex chaotic systems such as climate - models having thousands of free parameters which were tweaked extensively to produce a match to the limited historical record - are predictive, is nuts.

That's all here is to the theory of global warming - glorified curve overfitting.

The real state of the knowledge in longer-term climatology is very simple - we don't know much. The very fact that the predictions tend to oscillate from catastrophic cooling (remember the coming Ice Age?) to catastrophic warming - with everything in between, is the proof that there's no scientific value in these predictions. It's just like doing sums from top to bottom and from bottom up and getting different results.

Randall Parker said at April 3, 2008 10:17 PM:

Lorne McClinton,

I think you describe how many react:

My opinion is that the more you know about reducing your carbon footprint the more daunting the scale of the problem becomes.

But I would quibble with your use of the word "daunting". I think that doesn't quite get the flavor of people's reactions. Their reactions are more along the lines of "What? I would have to slash my living standard to a small fraction of my current rate of consumption? Not going to do that."

Look at how the Prius gets billed as good for the environment. Something that still pollutes is considered a good thing. The Prius embodies a sort of faux sacrifice.

Even supposed environmentalists unwilling to cut their living standards. Al Gore has a house so lavish that his monthly natural gas and electric bills cost more than most renters pay for their monthly rents. Al pays $30k per year just on energy for his home.

Armed with Gore's utility bills for the last two years, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research charged Monday that the gas and electric bills for the former vice president's 20-room home and pool house devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours.

"If this were any other person with $30,000-a-year in utility bills, I wouldn't care," says the Center's 27-year-old president, Drew Johnson. "But he tells other people how to live and he's not following his own rules."

For this reason I argue we should accelerate research on non-fossil fuels energy sources. Until non-fossil fuels energy sources become cheaper than fossil fuels we will keep burning fossil fuels.

Finnsense said at April 6, 2008 11:41 PM:

Some of the comments here are worrying. I find it hard to believe that on a blog about technology (rather than ideology-based politics) people are so blinkered about what the current situation regarding the science of climate change. None of us here are respected climatologists but the consensus among them is that it is very highly probable that the Earth is getting warmer and that it's down to our emissions. If you don't believe me, do some research, make some calls.

All that said, I think some of the commenters above are correct when they say why they aren't too worried about it. If you truly understand the problem and you understand human nature, you realise there is not much we can do. When everything is taken into consideration, the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions is carbon sequestration. This isn't popular among greens but it is possible and the Chinese could be encouraged to do it - which is better than any other solution.

357 said at April 8, 2008 6:43 AM:

While agreeing with those who view human-caused global warming as a scam / hoax / lefty power grab, I would like to add two other comments.

1. Anyone who suffers through cold winters is likely to look a "global warming" as a good thing. North Dakota's average yearly temp is 3 degrees higher? Keep up the good work!

2. If Randall Parker is a neo-Luddite, I am going to be the first chick elected Pope (paraphrasing comedian Tim Wilson). If you want information about science and trends without hysteria or any kind of denial, you come here. Not sure where you go for your information if you believe Randall is a neo-Luddite :-)

Stocking up on long underwear,

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