While many Americans understand the reality of the climate crisis, many still believe misinformation about the causes of climate change and efforts to mitigate it, a new survey reveals.
The level of misinformation or antagonism to climate policies varied between those who consumed different sources of news, with heavy consumers of Fox News most likely to receive a grade of “F” among the Americans surveyed.
The misinformation and beliefs studied in the survey ran the gamut of climate topics — from renewable energy to electric vehicles — and point to an ongoing misunderstanding of the rapidly growing crisis.
The survey, conducted by Climate Action Against Disinformation, a collection of organisations that work on the crisis, asked people their thoughts and beliefs on various climate-related questions.
They then graded every respondent from “A” to “F” based on how many pieces of misinformation they believed or how many positions antagonistic to climate policy they held. An “A” grade meant a belief in 10 per cent or less of the misleading or antagonistic statements and an “F” meant a belief in more than 40 per cent. Not knowing the answer did not contribute to a failing grade.
Overall, 53 per cent of Americans scored an “A” or a “B”, with nine per cent getting a “D” and 27 per cent scoring an “F”. But these results also varied among people who got their media from different sources.
In total, 58 per cent of the respondents who watched Fox News five or more days per week scored an “F” on the survey, while just 23 per cent scored an “A” or a “B”. That 58 per cent of “F” scores was the highest among all US news outlets studied in the survey.
Heavy consumers of the Los Angeles Times also had lower scores than other US outlets. Of those who read the paper five or more days per week, only 25 per cent got an “A” or a “B” and 46 per cent scored an “F”.
The Independent has reached out to representatives from Fox and the Los Angeles Times for comment.
In comparison, just 22 per cent of respondents who read The New York Times five or more days per week got an “F”, with 57 per cent receiving an “A” or “B”. Heavy consumers of other US networks and papers ranged somewhere in between these outlets.
Fox viewers also stood out for some specific beliefs on climate, the survey points out. While 35 per cent of Americans believed that a significant number of scientists disagree on the causes of the climate crisis, that number rose to 59 per cent among regular Fox viewers.
There is an overwhelming consensus among scientists around the world that the planet’s climate is warming – and that this warming is driven by excess carbon in the atmosphere, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels.
In addition, Fox viewers were more likely to have negative sentiments about some potential climate policies. For instance, while just 25 per cent of Americans believed that climate action and net-zero policies will increase poverty and unemployment, that number rose to 45 per cent among Fox viewers, the survey found.
The findings do not necessarily mean that a news outlet is the cause of disinformation or negative sentiments about climate policy, just that the network’s viewers were more likely to have these sentiments and beliefs.
But the survey also shows that many Americans are still uninformed about the climate crisis, its causes and efforts to mitigate it.
While 35 per cent of Americans believed that a significant number of scientists disagree on the causes of the climate crisis, only 26 per cent rated that statement as false. The remaining 39 per cent responded either “Don’t Know” or “Never Seen”.
Yet total denial of the climate crisis was not particularly common in the US. A full 39 per cent of Americans agreed with the statement “The climate is changing, mainly caused by human activities”. Another 30 per cent said the climate is changing but only partly caused by human activities and 16 per cent said the climate is changing but not because of humans.
Only seven per cent said the climate was not changing at all, and eight per cent said they didn’t know.