Climate Change: Is a social consensus possible?


“We have a scientific consensus on climate change, but we do not have a social consensus. Why is that?” My colleague Andy Hoffman posed this provocative question at a town hall meeting on climate change held at the University of Michigan earlier this year.

So, here’s my question to you: Is a social consensus even a remote possibility?
As we started talking about yesterday, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has documented just how divided we are when it comes to beliefs about climate change. They identified six Americas—six different categories of Americans with distinctively different views of climate change. The Alarmed are at one end, the 18% of the population with the strongest belief in global warming, the most concern, and the most motivation. The Dismissive are at the other end, the 7% of the American people who are the biggest disbelievers in the whole idea of global warming.

There are four other categories between these extremes. Like The Alarmed, members of The Concerned are sure global warming is happening and humans are a main cause, but they are less likely to see global warming as a personal threat or a threat to future generations. The Cautious believe global warming might be happening, and they tend to not be worried about it for themselves. Together, these two categories include a majority of Americans—33% are The Concerned, 19% are The Cautious.

The Disengaged (12%) haven’t thought much about global warming and don’t know much about it. They aren’t sure it is happening at all. While they don’t know if global warming will harm themselves or others, they believe any harm is far off in the future. The Doubtful (11%) are uniformed about global warming, and don’t know whether it’s happening or not. It doesn’t worry them and it’s not important to them. If global warming is occurring, they believe it’s due to natural (not human) causes. Any harm comes from it won’t be for a century.

Care to hear the director of the Yale study explain these categories? Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, appears in the video screen above discussing the divergent views of Americans over climate change. (NOTE: If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, click here to re-load the original OurValues post and watch the 6-minute video.)

Now that you have all six categories …

Which of the 6 is the best fit to your own views and beliefs?

Why don’t we have a social consensus on climate change?

Do you think a consensus is possible?

Tomorrow we’ll see some surprising findings about the possibility of changing attitudes about climate change.


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Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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