Massachusetts likes to think of itself as a leader in environmental protection and clean energy. And when it comes to government policies, the Commonwealth is certainly near the front of the pack. There’s the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, the Commonwealth’s participation in a ten-state regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, and Governor Deval Patrick’s lofty goals for wind energy development, to name a few.
But are Massachusetts residents really any more climate-forward than the rest of the nation?
A recent poll of Massachusetts residents’ views on climate change found that 77% of respondents think climate change is happening. That’s significantly higher than the 58-59% documented in two recent nationwide surveys – the Brookings Institution’s National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change and Global Warming’s Six Americas, a survey conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason University.
But attitudes toward climate change can’t be boiled down to a simple yes or no answer. Even among those convinced climate change is happening, there may be a range of views on other questions: What’s causing it? How quickly is it happening? How severe will the impacts be? When, and by whom, will they be felt? And what, if anything, should we do about it?
The Massachusetts poll and the Six Americas survey used a suite of questions to capture some of these subtleties and group individuals according to their overall attitudes about climate change. Four groups were identified in Massachusetts:
- The Convinced, who view human-caused climate change as a serious threat and strongly support individual and government action to address the problem;
- The Receptive, who view human-caused climate change as a less serious problem that they are less motivated to address;
- The Dubious, who question whether climate change is happening, or whether it’s human-caused, or who just don’t have a strong view on the subject;
- and The Dismissive, who do not think climate change is happening at all.
As the name implies, the Six Americas study broke the population into six groups: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive. There are obvious parallels. The extra two groups essentially derive from
- separating those with unformed views (Disengaged) from those who actively question human-caused climate change (Doubtful);
- designating the Alarmed group for those who view climate change as “extremely serious” problem – a step above “very serious” which was not available in the Massachusetts survey.
As the graphic at the top shows, this more holistic approach to climate change attitudes reveals that Massachusetts isn’t ahead of the rest of the nation. Quite the opposite. The portion of the Massachusetts population who views human-caused climate change as a very serious threat is smaller, and the Dismissive population is slightly larger. Given that the two polls used different questions and each have margins of error in the 3-4% range, I wouldn’t pin too much on the actual percentage points. But the trend is clear: While more people in Massachusetts are convinced climate change is happening, levels of concern and motivation lag slightly behind those nationwide.