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Despite the Evidence, Nearly 15% of Americans Deny Climate Change
  • Posted February 16, 2024

Despite the Evidence, Nearly 15% of Americans Deny Climate Change

Nearly 15% of Americans still deny that climate change is real, according to a new national assessment from the University of Michigan.

Evidence of climate change has been mounting, including science which has shown that climate-related natural disasters are growing in frequency and intensity sooner than originally predicted, researchers said.

Nevertheless, climate change is still not wholly accepted as fact in the United States.

To assess climate change denialism in America, researchers analyzed Twitter (now X) data from 2017 to 2019, using AI techniques to track how social media has spread such denial.

The study also identified key influencers like former President Donald Trump, and assessed how they spread and cemented misinformation about climate change.

Using ChatGPT AI, researchers classified more than 7.4 million tweets as "for"or "against"climate change, and mapped the results at state and county levels.

"Prior to the advancement of AI and social media data, this work relied on expensive and time-consuming surveys," said senior study author Joshua Newell, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability.

Analysis of the tweets showed that belief in climate change is highest along the West Coast and East Coast, and that denialism is highest in the central and southern parts of the United States.

In fact, more than 20% of the populations of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama and North Dakota do not believe in climate change, results show.

Belief in climate change also can vary widely within each state, researchers added.

For example, less than 12% of the population of California does not believe in climate change, but northern California's Shasta County had denial rates as high as 52%.

Similarly, denial across Texas averages 21%, but at the county level denial ranges from 13% in Travis County to 67% in Hockley County.

Political affiliation plays the most influential role in determining whether someone believes in climate change, researchers said. A high percentage of Republican voters are climate change deniers.

The researchers also found a strong connection between climate denialism and low COVID vaccination rates, suggesting that these folks have a broad skepticism of science.

"What this indicates is that communities with a high prevalence of climate change deniers are at risk of discounting other science-based health or safety recommendations," said lead author Dimitrios Gounaridis, a research fellow at the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems.

Climate change opinion also is influenced by level of education, income and the degree to which a regional economy is reliant on fossil fuels for energy, researchers said.

Trump had the biggest influence on climate change opinion, results show, as well as three influential groups that heavily retweeted him"The Daily Wire, Breitbart and Climate Depot. Others included conservative political commentators like Ben Shapiro.

"During the 2017-2019 study period, the most heavily retweeted post includes one by Trump that questions climate change due to unusually cold weather in the U.S., and another where he casts doubt on a U.N. climate report," Newell said in a university news release. "In almost half of the tweets analyzed, the most common refrain was that 'climate change was not real.'"

Other tweets argued that humans are not the primary cause of climate change, or that climate change experts are unreliable.

Newell said it was striking how influential a role people like Trump play in shaping and cementing public opinion.

"What is scary, and somewhat disheartening, is how divided the worlds are between climate change belief and denial," he said. "The respective X echo chambers have little communication and interaction between them."

Newell noted that the new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, did not analyze newer social media outlets like Truth Social, which has served as the primary channel for Trump's recent posts.

"Influencers like Trump are creating their own echo chambers outside of X, which in many ways is even more concerning," Newell said. "People tend to selectively credit or discredit evidence based on their beliefs, which is how fake experts come to serve as credible messengers."

Social media companies should flag misinformation in posts and consider banning users who persistently spread falsehoods, the researchers argued.

"We learned that a relatively small number of individuals are highly influential in spreading misinformation about climate change,"Newell said.

"Social media companies have banned users for this type of behavior in the past, and for other topics, such as when then-Twitter banned Trump because of tweets maintaining election fraud and supporting the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6,"Newell said. "For the safety of others, these companies should consider developing similar policies to limit the spread of climate change misinformation."

More information

National Geographic has more on climate change.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Feb. 14, 2024

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