© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

More Kansans Than Ever Believe In Global Warming, Yale Survey Shows

The Yale Climate Opinion map, published in early September 2020.
The Yale Climate Opinion map, published in early September 2020.

The majority of Kansans also back policies to mitigate climate change, like limiting emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Climate change is at the root of this year’s extreme weather events, from the wild swings between flooding and drought in Kansas to larger hurricanes and some of the worst wildfires the West has seen.

And the majority of Americans are starting to take notice, according to the latest survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

The climate opinion map, which was compiled from survey data from March 2020, shows 72% of Americans believe that global warming is happening. At a local level, Kansans and Missourians aren’t far behind, with a little more than two-thirds believing that global warming is happening.

“Everyone by and large underestimates how much people care about this issue,” Yale School of Environment research scientist Jennifer Marlon said.

Because of that, she said, people are often afraid to bring up climate change because they’re worried that the other person will disagree with them.

Kansas results on climate change policies, September 2020.
Credit Yale Program on Climate Communicaton
Kansas results from Yale Climate Opinion survey 2020

Climate change policy

The point of the survey is to figure out what Americans really think so that climate researchers can better understand what misconceptions or policy preferences are out there.

For example, in Kansas, there’s majority support for a wide range of climate-related policies. Eighty-five percent of people support funding research into renewable energy resources; 62% support setting strict limits on CO2 emissions from existing coal-fired power plants; and 80% support providing tax rebates for energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels.

Many politicians say they make decisions about priorities and votes based on constituent opinion, but when it comes to climate change, “they get it wrong,” Marlon said.

“They don’t know what public opinion actually is.”

Amber Campbell, an assistant professor of anthropology at Kansas State University, said ranchers and farmers in Kansas and Oklahoma mirror the Yale study.

Ten years ago, producers would tell Campbell the climate wasn’t changing, but she said they’d talk for hours about all the ways the weather was differentnow than in the past. In her most recent surveys, they’re more willing to acknowledge it.

“The reality that weather is different than it was 30 years ago is becoming more and more apparent to people regardless of where they’re at in life,” Campbell said.

Kansas results from Yale Climate Opinion survey, September 2020.
Credit Yale Program on Climate Communication
Kansas results from Yale Climate Opinion survey 2020

Climate change risks

While there’s a growing understanding about the realities of climate change, there’s still a disconnect between what’s at stake. Two-thirds of Kansans think global warming will harm future generations and a majority believe global warming will harm plants, animals and people in developing countries.

But only 37% of Kansans think that global warming will harm them personally.

It’s the same across the country, a psychological phenomenon Marlon attributes  to optimism bias. She said in some ways that’s good, because it prevents us from always worrying about worst-case scenarios, but ultimately we have to make sure we’re taking actions to protect ourselves against real and present dangers.

“We tend to sort of feel that we won’t be touched, like somehow we’re invincible or have a protective bubble around us,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s not true.”

The data for the Yale Program on Climate Change comes from a national survey of more than 25,000 respondents. The team validated the local data model with independent surveys in California, Texas, Colorado and Ohio. For statewide level data, the margin of error is plus or minus 7 percentage points.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2020 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit kmuw.org.

I seek to find and tell interesting stories about how our environment shapes and impacts us. Climate change is a growing threat to all Kansans, both urban and rural, and I want to inform people about what they can expect, how it will change their daily lives and the ways in which people, corporations and governments are working to adapt. I also seek to hold utility companies accountable for their policy and ratemaking decisions. Email me at grimmett@kmuw.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.