Connecting the Dots Between Extreme Weather and Climate Change

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Although most Americans believe in seriousness of problem, 42% say media exaggerates the matter.

Striking images and video are streaming in from over 1,000 events in more than 100 countries where people are “connecting the dots” between climate change and extreme weather, according to supporters of a global effort called “Climate Impacts Day,” organized by the international climate campaign,

Organizers say the events are powerful evidence of how the string of weather disasters over the last year is increasing public concern about global warming. Photos and videos that the group has available on the site include:

  • In New Mexico, firefighters standing in the remains of the Santa Fe Forest, which was burned last summer during the state’s worst wildfire in history.
  • In Pakistan, a group of women in front of the makeshift shelter that became their home after the devastating floods in 2010 that displaced over 20 million people.
  • In Lebanon, over 1,000 students protest air pollution and request more bike-lanes to combat the problem.
  • In Vermont, citizens unfurl a  banner at the site of a covered bridge that was swept away in the devastating flooding brought on by Hurricane Irene last August..

Pakistanis sit on the floor of a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter during an evacuation mission from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, August 4th, 2010. Evacuation missions are being conducted as part of the disaster relief efforts to assist Pakistanis in flood-stricken regions of the nation.“We just celebrated Earth Day. May 5 is more like Broken Earth Day, a worldwide witness to the destruction global warming is already causing,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of, the global climate campaign that is coordinating the events. “People everywhere are saying the same thing: our tragedy is not some isolated trauma, it’s part of a pattern.”

Seven in ten Americans now believe that “global warming is affecting the weather,” according to a recent poll conducted by Yale University. Over 80% of Americans have personally experienced an extreme weather or natural disaster in the last year.

During the recent Republican Convention, presidential nominee Mitt Romney has used the issue of the seriousness of climate change as a way to deride his opponent during the election campaign.

 “Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” Anthony A. Leiserowitz of Yale University, one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll, told The New York Times. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

“No one wants pity—they want the recognition that these tragedies are part of a pattern, and they want swift action to stop that pattern from getting worse,” said McKibben. “Our only hope is to kick fossil fuel, and as these images make clear we better do it fast.”

A complete list of highlighted events around the world can be found on the website.

According to Gallup, about half of Americans, 52%, say the effects of global warming have already begun to happen, consistent with views since 2009. However, this remains down from prior years, when as many as 61% believed global warming was already manifesting itself.

Today's level of belief that global warming is already apparent is similar to what Gallup found in 1997 and from 2001 through 2005. During those periods, however, somewhat fewer than today's 15% said its effects would never happen.

The view that global warming is already causing a rise in sea levels and affecting weather and rainfall around the world is central to climate-change researchers' and others' concerns about the issue.

While barely half of Americans agree that the effects of global warming are already manifest, an additional 29% say the effects will start to happen within a few years (4%), sometime in their lifetime (10%), or sometime further into the future (15%). Fifteen percent of Americans say the effects will never happen.

These findings are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted each March since 2001.

The same poll finds the slight majority of Americans saying the news about global warming is either correct (24%) or underestimates its seriousness (31%). Still, at 42%, the percentage saying the media exaggerate the seriousness, remains higher than it was for much of the past decade, although down from the 2010 high point, when it reached 48%.

Americans' belief that the media exaggerate the seriousness of global warming rose sharply between 2006 and 2010, mainly because of a shift in Republicans' and independents' views. Democrats also grew a bit more skeptical during this period, but never more than 25% held this view.

Since 2009, two-thirds of Republicans have continued to say global warming news is exaggerated, while independents' skepticism has eased slightly, as has Democrats'.

Much of the controversy over global warming concerns its cause, not whether a measurable increase in the earth's average temperature has, in fact, occurred. A slight majority of Americans, 53%, say global warming is caused by pollution resulting from human activities. Forty-one percent believe it stems from natural changes in the environment.

One of the more contentious battles in the politics of global warming involves the perceived scientific consensus. Those promoting global warming as a serious problem have declared the issue settled, arguing there is no serious scientific claim against the evidence for man-made climate change. Global warming skeptics point to scientific dissenters and try to debunk predictions of catastrophic consequences of global warming made by some, while promoting the more benign effects described by others.

When asked to weigh in broadly on this debate, the majority of Americans say most scientists believe global warming is occurring. By contrast, 7% say most scientists reject the existence of climate change, while 32% say most scientists are unsure. At the same time, fewer Americans today believe there is a scientific consensus than did so during the 2000s, when at least 6 in 10 held this view.

Across all four Gallup measures of views on global warming, the majority of Americans lean toward believing in it. Independents' views are similar to the national averages, while much larger percentages of Democrats are supportive. Republicans, on the other hand, are largely skeptical.

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit



Visit your local library to find these resources:

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change
by Elizabeth Kolbert, (2006).

The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps
by Peter D. Ward (2010).

Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives
by Michael Specter, (2009).

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century
by James Howard Kunstler,(2006).

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
by Jared Diamond, (2005).

The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth
by Tim Flannery, (2005).

The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future
by Laurence C. Smith, (2010).




Image Credits:

1. Article Illustration: Los Alamos, NM, April 5, 2000 --- Smoldering trees from forest fire in Santa Fe National Forest. Photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo

2. Pakistanis sit on the floor of a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter during an evacuation mission from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, August 4th, 2010. Evacuation missions are being conducted as part of the disaster relief efforts to assist Pakistanis in flood-stricken regions of the nation.

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