Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 brought global warming to the forefront, generating awareness and demand for change in the years that followed. However, a new poll shows many rural citizens have lost interest in the topic.
Information collected in the poll compared new data to results from 2008. Over the past five years respondents are more accepting of climate change, and that human activity is at least one of the factors contributing to changing weather patterns.
According to the data, 73 percent of respondents believe to some degree that climate change is happening, with 25 percent definitely agreeing and another 48 percent somewhat agreeing. More than half of the respondents (54 percent) agree that human activity, including industry and transportation, is a significant cause of climate change.
While respondents acknowledge climate change, results also show a lowered sense of urgency.
Compared to the 2008 poll, the percentage of people seeing climate change as something people can control fell by 10 percent to 41 percent. The number of people who believe climate change is just part of normal climate patterns increased by 10 percent to 47 percent.
Respondents have been affected by consecutive years of drought which has affected crops and livestock operations. Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, UNL Extension specialist based at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, says the current weather pattern may have jaded responders who have seen scientists blame both the state's 2011 floods and 2012 drought on climate change.
The economy also plays a factor in people’s demand for action. According to the poll, sixty percent of respondents said they think something needs to be done in their lifetime to deal with climate change, with half believing something needs to be done immediately. However, fewer rural Nebraskans believe immediate action from the government is necessary – 38 percent, down from 53 percent in 2008.
UNL public policy specialist Brad Lubben says people understand change requires existing investments to get future results.
"The public decided, in the midst of an economic downturn, that costs to the economy were too great a price to pay for the promised future benefits to the climate," Lubben said.
The poll team was surprised to find that the poll indicated that more educated rural Nebraskans are less likely than others to support immediate action by the government to deal with climate change. Thirty-seven percent of those with at least a bachelor's degree supported it, compared to 40 percent of those with a high school diploma or less.
A decision by Congress to reject legislation regulating greenhouse gas emissions may have also reduced the public’s urgency for change.
The poll conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln collected 2,317 responses from respondents living in rural parts of the state.