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Study Predicts Public Opinion on Climate Change

February 06, 2012

Drexel sociologist Dr. Robert Brulle
Drexel sociologist Dr. Robert Brulle identified key factors in predicting public opinion on climate change
Public concern about climate change has varied widely over the past few decades. For example, Gallup has been polling individuals about how much they personally worry about climate change. In 2004, about 26 percent of the respondents stated that they worried “a great deal.” By 2007, this proportion had risen to 41 percent. But by 2010, this fraction dropped to 28 percent. Why?A new study conducted by Dr. Robert Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, along with Jason Carmichael of McGill University and J. Craig Jenkins of Ohio State University, set out to identify the informational, cultural and political processes that influence public concern about climate change.The study, which was published today in Climatic Change, one of the top 10 climate science journals in the world, reveals that the driving factor that most influences public opinion on climate change is the mobilizing efforts of advocacy groups and elites. “Public opinion regarding climate change is likely to remain divided as long at the political elites send out conflicting messages on this issue,” said Brulle.The study conducted an empirical analysis of the factors affecting U.S. public concern about the threat of climate change between January 2002 and December 2010. The five factors that were examined were extreme weather events, public access to accurate scientific information, media coverage, elite cues and movement/countermovement advocacy. While media coverage exerts an important influence, the study revealed that this coverage is itself largely a function of elite cues and economic factors. Weather extremes have no effect on aggregate public opinion, and promulgation of scientific information to the public on climate change has a minimal effect. The implication would seem to be that information-based science advocacy has had only a minor effect on public concern, while political mobilization by elites and advocacy groups is critical in influencing climate change concern.Brulle has authored numerous articles and book chapters on environmental science, and is a frequent media commentator on climate change. He co-edited Power, Justice and the Environment:  A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement (2005) with David Pellow, and is the author of Agency, Democracy, and Nature: U.S. Environmental Movements from a Critical Theory Perspective (2000). Brulle previously served as a commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard for two decades. He received his doctorate in sociology from George Washington University, his master of science degree in natural resources from the University of Michigan, his master of arts degree in sociology from the New School for Social Research, and his bachelor of science degree in marine engineering from the United States Coast Guard Academy.*** To schedule an interview with Dr. Brulle, contact the Drexel Media Relations Team
at 215-895-2705. ***