By Ellen Knickmeyer, Hannah Fingerhut and Emily Swanson
When it comes to their views on climate change, Americans are looking at natural disasters and their local weather, according to a new poll.
Lately, that means record deadly wildfires in California, rainfall by the foot in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit and the dome of smog over Salt Lake City that engineer Caleb Gregg steps into when he walks out his door in winter.
“I look at it every day,” Gregg said from Salt Lake City, where winter days with some of the country’s worst air starting a few years ago dinged the city’s reputation as a pristine sports city and spurred state leaders to ramp up clean-air initiatives. “You look out and see pollution just sitting over the valley.”
“I’ve never really doubted climate change – in the last five-ish years it’s become even more evident, just by seeing the weather,” the 25-year-old said. “We know we’re polluting, and we know pollution is having an effect on the environment.”
The poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago finds 74 percent of Americans say extreme weather in the past five years — hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves — has influenced their opinions about climate change. That includes half of Americans who say these recent events have influenced their thinking a great deal or a lot.
About as many, 71 percent, said the weather they experience daily in their own areas has influenced their thinking about climate change science.
The survey was conducted in November, a few days before the federal government released a major report revving up scientific warnings about the impact of climate change, including the growing toll of extreme storms and droughts.
The share of Americans who said they think the climate is changing has held roughly steady over the last year — about 7 in 10 Americans think climate change is happening. Among those, 60 percent say climate change is caused mostly or entirely by humans, and another 28 percent think it’s about an equal mix of human activities and natural changes.
Overall, 9 percent of Americans said climate change is not happening, and another 19 percent said they were not sure.