Warming through the population

Global warming’s “Six Americas”:
[Via Climate Progress]

We’ve seen a lot of recent polling that Americans support strong climate action (see Mark Mellman : “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” and “Americans support greenhouse gas regulation even if it could “substantially” raise energy prices.” This guest post, first published here, presents a new “audience segmentation analysis.” I’d ask readers which segment they’re in, but if you’re not alarmed, you’re reading the wrong blog!

There are six unique segments of the American public that each engage with the issue of global warming in their own distinct way. Just over half of American adults (51 percent) are either Alarmed or Concerned about global warming, and these individuals are poised to vote on the issue with their pocket books and at the ballot box.

Figure 1

The Alarmed (18 percent of the U.S. adult population) are the segment most engaged in the issue of global warming. They are very convinced it is happening, human-caused, and a serious and urgent threat. The Alarmed are already making changes in their own lives and support an aggressive national response (see graphs below).

The Concerned (33 percent) are also convinced that global warming is a serious problem and support a vigorous national response. Members of this group have signaled their intention to at least engage in consumer action on global warming in the near term, but they are less personally involved in the issue and have taken fewer actions than the Alarmed.

The Cautious (19 percent) also believe that global warming is a problem, although they are less certain that it is happening than the Alarmed or the Concerned. They do not view it as a personal threat, and do not feel a sense of urgency to deal with it.

The Disengaged (12 percent) do not know and have not thought much about the issue at all and say that they could easily change their minds about global warming.

The Doubtful (11 percent) are evenly split among those who think global warming is happening, those who think it isn’t, and those who do not know. Many within this group believe that if global warming is happening, it is caused by natural changes in the environment. They believe that it won’t harm people for many decades, if at all, and they say that America is already doing enough to respond to the threat.

The Dismissive (7 percent), like the Alarmed, are actively engaged in the issue, but are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Most members of this group believe that global warming is not happening, is not a threat to either people or non-human nature, and strongly believe that it does not warrant a national response.


Over at my little company blog, SpreadingScience, I discussed the results of this very interesting survey with a focus on how innovations and new idea diffuse through a population. Essentially, this breakdown is almost exactly what one would expect to see regarding new ideas and that the numbers indicate that we are rapidly seeing a shift from a population that is not sure if climate change is happening to one where virtually everyone knows it happens and the focus has shifted to how to deal with it.

The results in the entire article have some fascinating information (be sure and read the entire pdf) regarding the demographics, activism, etc. of each group. Most of the groups seen in the survey fit quite well with the canonical groups seen in previous research (i.e. early adopters, early middle, etc.).

There is one big difference and that seems to be the dismissive group. While laggards are usually the most conservative group, which is also seen here, they are also usually less informed and less educated than the other groups. That is not the case here.

The Dismissive have some very unusual demographics compared to other sorts of laggards. They have quite a bit of education past high school and make more money than average. While their average age is similar to the national mean, almost two thirds are men, the only group with such a skewed sex ratio.

The only people who talk more than them about global warming are the Concerned and Alarmed. While three quarters do not like to talk about the subject, when they do talk, they generally like to tell others about global warming than listen and feel they are well informed on the subject. In fact, they feel they already know enough about it, with over 80% feeling there is little more they need to know.

Much higher fractions distrust even their family and friends on this topic than in any other group. Experts of any kind are strongly distrusted. They also skew very different than every other group when it comes to where they get their information.

They get much of their information from the internet and radio while watching much less TV on average than every other group. Almost twice as many are interested in political news as the national average (40% vs 21%). The TV they do watch is substantially different than any other group.

So, in contrast to other instances, the Dismissive here are usually well educated and have above average wealth. They do remain very conservative and distrust virtually everyone who does not hold the same opinion as themselves. They essentially only talk with others who think like they do and have very little contacts to any of the other group.

In many other populations, the laggards do not so much actively educate themselves against the innovation as simply take a lot longer to alter the workflow and adopt a new idea. In this case, the laggards seem to be working to cut themselves off from all the other groups in order to prevent their adoption of the idea.

A nice instance of a population taking direct action to wall itself off from a new idea or innovation. This usually does not happen in other instances as there are eventually to many negative pressures for not adopting the new thing that they have to change or lose out in the market place. For example, the hybrid corn I mention elsewhere. Eventually the laggards simply can not compete with yields and have to adopt the new corn.

In this case, there is no real ramifications for most people to stay laggards so they respond to the continuing diffusion of the idea by walling themselves off. What could be a problem would be politicians and social leaders who believe that the small percentage of DIsmissive actually represent a much larger number.

Basing a political career on the 7% that have their fingers in their ears crying “La.La.La'” may not have much of a future.

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