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(CNN) – We Americans don’t know much about climate change.
That’s one of my takeaways from spending a week in Woodward County, Oklahoma, which is one of the most climate-skeptical places in the United States.
I met smart, thoughtful people who think hairspray contributes to global warming -- or that wind farms pollute more than oil. (Neither is true, of course.)
I’m convinced one reason for this confusion and misinformation is that we Americans aren’t talking about this issue -- not enough. The silence that surrounds global warming not only means that we don’t understand the causes and impacts of climate change (which, to be fair, are superconfusing) but also that we don’t understand each other and how we view this issue as individuals and a nation.
I’ll count myself as part of the problem here. Before I started looking into how and why Americans shape their views on climate, I had tons of silly misconceptions.
To clear things up, here’s a 10-question quiz to see how well you understand the basics of climate change -- and how it plays out in American life today.
I’d encourage you to share the results on social media -- and start a conversation there about how and why climate science matters to the future of the planet.
1. Let’s say you’re at a party with all the world’s working climate scientists. If you were able to poll each of them, what percentage of the scientists would tell you climate change is real and we humans are causing it?
97%! “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position,” according to NASA.
2. What percentage of Americans know the answer to Question 1?
10%! According to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, only 1 in 10 Americans knows that there’s near-consensus among scientists that climate change is real and caused by humans. So if you got Question 1 right, hooray! You’re in the hyperenlightened 10%! Go tell a friend ...
3. In the United States, what is the biggest contributor to climate change?
Electricity! But it’s close. Thirty-one percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from burning coal, gas and oil for electricity, compared to 21% for transportation, like driving cars, according to the EPA.
4. When it comes to information about climate change, which person -- or group of people -- are Americans more likely to say they trust?
Family and friends! Sixty-seven percent of Americans “strongly” or “somewhat” trust family and friends for information about global warming, according to a survey by researchers at Yale University and George Mason University, released in March 2015. Only 50% trust Pope Francis, who, this summer, released an encyclical on the moral injustice of climate change, for that sort of information. Perhaps surprisingly, climate scientists are the most trusted group (70%), followed by other kinds of scientists (64%), TV weather reporters (60%) and personal primary care doctors (57%). Only a few of you likely are primary care doctors, but I bet all of you qualify as family or friends to someone. Use that as an excuse to start a conversation.
5. Which country would you say is more skeptical of climate science?
Norway! The United States has the reputation for being an international laggard on climate change, but this country isn’t the world’s most skeptical. “Australia has the highest proportion of skeptics at 17%, followed by Norway (15%), New Zealand (13%) and the USA (12%),” write the authors of a May 2015 study published in Global Environmental Change. “At the other extreme, only 2% of the Spanish and 4% of Germans and Swiss are climate skeptics, while the proportion of skeptics in all other countries is only 10% or less.” The authors looked at 14 industrialized countries.
6. What percentage of Americans do you think would say they are either “extremely” or “very” sure that climate change is not happening?
9%! The same percentage of Americans also believe vaccines are more dangerous than disease. In other words: It’s a fringe view. Neither view, for the record, is supported by science. Those numbers come from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
7. Which of these Republican candidates for the 2016 U.S. presidency has said climate change is real, is caused by people, and is a problem.
Lindsey Graham! Sen. Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, has acknowledged the reality of climate science. Graham, who is not a front-runner, helped write bipartisan climate legislation in 2009 and 2010 before withdrawing his support, according to new reports. “I know I’m not a scientist, but here’s the problem I’ve got with some people in my party: When you ask the scientists what’s going on, why don’t you believe them?” he asked the late-night talk show host Seth Meyers earlier this summer. “If I went to 10 doctors and nine said, ‘Hey you’re gonna die,’ and one says, “You’re fine,’ why would I believe the one guy?” Donald Trump, the real estate tycoon and reality TV star, meanwhile, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, in June, that he is “not a huge believer in the global warming phenomenon.”
8. Which country has contributed the most, overall, to climate change?
United States! Since 1850, the United States has emitted 366 gigatons of carbon dioxide; China has emitted 150 gigatons, according to the World Resources Institute. Pretty soon, China likely will pass the United States as the world’s largest contributor to climate change, and already emits more carbon dioxide per year than the United States. But thinking about these numbers in the longer term makes sense. They tell us how much each country is to blame for the warming already locked into place.
9. We’re hearing a lot about climate change in the news this year. First, there was Pope Francis’ bold encyclical on climate. Then, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut power plant emissions considerably. But what percentage of Americans rarely or never talks about climate change?
74%! Three-quarters of Americans say they rarely or never hear someone they know talk about climate change, according to Yale surveys published in 2015. And it’s getting worse over time. In 2008, 60% of people surveyed said they talked rarely or never about climate change, which is considerably lower. This is a huge problem. People are likely to trust the views of their family and friends on this important topic, but fewer are speaking up!
10. Speaking of the Clean Power Plan, you may have heard it’s controversial because it proposes cutting back on coal for power generation -- and ramping up renewable energy use in the United States. It’s likely to get stuck in a legal battle. But what percentage of Americans support strict emissions limits on coal power plants?
70%! “Seven in 10 Americans (70%) support setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, even though the cost of electricity would likely increase,” according to a survey from Yale University and George Mason University, published in 2015. Majorities in nearly every state support that type of action, which is the basis of the Clean Power Plan.