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Global warming skepticism rose as the economy tanked

By Doyle Rice (USA Today) - March 8, 2012

Americans’ skepticism about global warming has increased over the past few years, and a recent study says that the dismal economy is the prime reason.

“We suggest that the decline in belief about climate change is most likely driven by the economic insecurity caused by the Great Recession,” political scientists Lyle Scruggs and Salil Benegal of the University of Connecticut write in the study.

The economy is even more of a factor than partisan politics, supposed biased media coverage, or changeable weather, they say.

The study appeared in February in the journal Global Environmental Change, and relied on several U.S. and international public opinion surveys taken over the past three decades.

Scruggs, the lead author, says the public’s belief in climate change sagged as the economy dipped and unemployment climbed in the late 2000s, dropping from a belief rate of 60-65 percent in 2008 to about 50 percent in 2010.

Additionally, when the unemployment rate was a low 4.5 percent, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said climate change had already started. But when the jobless rate reached 10 percent, that number dropped to about 50 percent.

Scruggs says the trend also held true among survey respondents across political parties and also in Europe, despite that continent’s stronger overall pro-climate ethos.

“We would suggest that it is misreading public opinion to dismiss the impact of the current economic crisis and to blame the problem mainly on disinformation or the weather,” the authors write. “Given what we know about recent and historic patterns, it seems probable that climate change opinion will rebound as the economy, and more specifically the job situation, improves.”