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Summary:

Looks like the global rise in extreme weather events (cough, Irene) hasn’t been enough to make Americans more concerned about the issue of climate change. But extreme weather has been causing certain regions, particularly with dry, hot climates, to worry more about climate change.

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Looks like the global rise in extreme weather events (cough, Irene) hasn’t been enough to make Americans more concerned about the issue of climate change. But extreme weather has been causing certain regions, particularly with dry, hot climates, to worry more about climate change. Essentially, if extreme weather particularly effects your region, you’re going to be far more worried about it — guess that’s human nature.

According to a Nielsen poll  of 25,000 online consumers from 51 countries, 69 percent of respondents say they are concerned about climate change, up slightly from 66 percent in 2009, but down from 72 percent in 2007. Respondents in the U.S. and China were less concerned about climate change in 2011 than in the past, while respondents in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa were more worried about climate change in 2011.

Other issues to worry about

In particular, only 48 percent of Americans in the recent poll say they are concerned about climate change, which represented one of the sharpest declines (at 14 percentage points) in concern about climate change between 2007 and 2011 compared to respondents in other countries. Americans are far more concerned about debt, rising gas prices, and the economy, said Nielsen U.S. SVP Consumer & Shopper Insights Todd Hale.

Chinese consumers also were less concerned about climate change in the latest poll, and 64 percent said they were concerned in 2011, compared to 77 percent in 2009 (a drop of 17 percent).

For regions with respondents that were less concerned about climate change, other environmental issues also grew in prominence over climate change. For example, environmental concerns like air pollution, use of pesticides, water pollution, packaging waste and water shortages.

Where & why people are worried

In contrast to the declines in concern in the U.S. and China, the study found that concern over climate change increased in Latin America to 90 percent in 2011, up from 85 percent in 2009. In the Middle East and Africa concern over climate jumped to 80 percent in 2011, from 69 percent in 2009 — the highest increase regionally.

Not surprisingly, consumers in Latin America are making the connection between the extreme weather events there and climate change. Says Nielsen Latin America President Arturo García:

Latin America has experienced a number of distressing and impactful environmental events over the last several years, and the region’s consumers are increasingly attributing these events to broad climate change. People are expressing clear concern about unusual weather patterns including increased rainfall, hurricanes, and floods in some parts of Latin America, and severe droughts in others.

Likewise in Africa and the Middle East, people are making the link. Nielsen Egypt Managing Director Ram Mohan Rao says:

The hot and dry climates in many Middle Eastern and African countries and the widely held perception that temperatures are rising every summer has likely led to an increased concern about climate change and weather variation.

Closer to home

If there’s a continued increase in extreme weather events in the U.S., I think concern over climate change will also increase here the U.S., too. Even when rhetoric in political circles has seemed to move away from a discussion around climate change, if the weather gets extreme enough locally, it will be hard not to make the connection. 2010 is looking to be the most extreme weather year on record.

Even if Americans don’t end up having all that much first-hand experience with an increase in these major disasters over the next few years, the influx of photos, videos and news stories (available 24/7 on the web) of people increasingly dying or losing their property in extreme weather events is, could be a persuasive factor. Al Gore thinks so; he’s turning to the intersection of digital media and extreme weather to launch a new social movement called the Climate Reality Project, which will live stream content that shows how extreme weather has affected people’s lives and will take place Sept. 14 and 15.

Of course, weather events like hurricane Irene can’t solely be attributed to climate change, but scientists generally are willing to say they think hurricanes will get more extreme thanks to climate change. But we’ll have to see how extreme and prevalent these storms need to be to convince more Americans to become worried about climate change.

Image courtesy of NASA Goddard, Photo and Video, Undertow 851, brownpau, and Matt and Kim Rudge.

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  1. Irene is an “extreme weather event? Really? its a freakin hurricane…a normal event that happens in late summer.

  2. It didn’t happen yesterday, why worry about tomorrow? Evidence? I heard from Michelle Bachmann that climate change is bunk, so that’s who I believe.

  3. John Richardson Sunday, August 28, 2011

    What a shill piece. The Fabian Society thanks you.

  4. Weather does not equal climate. Irene was a minimal hurricane and “demonstrates” nothing (other than all hurricanes can be dangerous). According to CERN, of the four drivers of climate change (cosmic rays, sun spots, volcano activity, and us), WE are the LEAST important and have the LEAST effect – and perhaps none. My car didn’t cause your drought, sorry, go blame something else.

  5. Why is it called climate change instead of global warming now? Seems weird they’d change the name to mean anything. I mean damn the wind changing direction counts as climate change. It’s a crock. I read these articles no numbers no facts. It’s emotional science. It’s how they feel about it. Well I feel it’s bs. Ps. All the people in the world can fit in warren and yahoo county in Mississippi. Every person has over 5 acres of land to them selves on earth. Crazy isn’t it? Overpopulation? These people make me sick. They think they can tell you what to think and they’re always right. I’m in high school and this crap is forced down my throat every day. I have proven my teachers wrong on almost everything said in that class with simple facts. Learn for your selves don’t be told. Do it yourself.

  6. Some areas have bad, others have good weather. Okay, we understand that “climate change” is responsible for the former. What causes the latter? We need some “leading experts” to publish their explanation for both in a “peer reviewed” journal. LOL

  7. Marc Ferguson Sunday, August 28, 2011

    Hi Katie.

    Thanks for having the courage to publish the article. The declining concern in the U.S. is the result of one very disturbing trend. The scientific method, which by definition never leads to zero doubt, has now been twisted into a kind of sick version of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ as applied in law i.e. if there is any doubt, then none of it is certain. This is the currency of the climate change denier crowd, which has now become a sort of litmus test of Conservatives. It has gone from the most pressing issue of our time to something that can’t be discussed in mixed crowds in public. We have totally lost our minds (and our science) and it is the embodiement of the Tea Party Conservatives that bear the blame. We’re screwed.

    Marc Ferguson

  8. The Earth is flat, revolves around the sun, and some divine entity created the whole thing in little more than 6000 years desiging humans who walked with dinosaurs and stand alone apart from the rest of creature life. So it is taught in Texas and therefore must be true.

  9. I wish people would read a little about history before assuming east coast hurricanes are a sign of change, the earth has always either been in a warming or a cooling period, and the east coast including new england and southeastern canada historicly have had there share of hurricanes and tropical storms, for I do believe as humans we need to clean up are way of living and protect mother earth, but read some history and you will find hurricanes, floods, droughts and every other kind of natural disater has gone through severe and not so severe periods, I hope everyone that takes time to read the news will take time to read history before coming to conclusions

  10. Yada yada yada. First it was global warming, but wait! It’s not really warming, it’s cooling too. So now the cry rings out, “Climate Charge!” Come on, get real

    Can you say, “Natural variation?” The climate does change-naturally. Yet the cry rings out, “We must prevent climate change!” Where’s the data? How do the so-called greenhouse gases cause both temperature increase and decrease and the climate variation that is claimed? Is not climate variation caused by natural events such as solar activity and volcanic activities? Instead of trying to prevent what we can’t, is it not better to focus on changing the things that we can by dealing with the normal variation of the climate and not trying to prevent the climate noise that is in the system?

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