Although global warming climate change has been a “hot button” issue for several years, until the 2010 GSS surveys were completed, my favorite database for gauging American society hadn’t pushed it. What spurred me to check the newest stuff was a post by Half Sigma a few months back where he lamented what he sees as the intellectual herd mentality among the brightest that leads them to buy into the CAGW narrative:
People with higher general intelligence (let’s call that fluid g) are better at reasoning, but they aren’t more likely to use their reasoning ability to figure out the actual truth of a matter, they are just better at figuring which group’s opinions to mimic. People with higher intelligence also have a greater degree of social conformity than people with lower intelligence. …
Mitt Romney says he believes in global warming but Governor Rick Perry of Texas doesn’t. Rick Perry has the correct beliefs about global warming. It’s what people who are smart, are knowledgeable about physics, and who think for themselves believe. …
Unfortunately, Rick Perry has the correct belief about global warming not because he’s smarter than Mitt Romney but because he’s stupider than Mitt Romney. We have reached the sad state in which the majority of smart people believe in global warming, and smart people figure out what to believe based on what other smart people believe, and that is how Mitt Romney has come to the wrong conclusion on global warming and why Rick Perry has failed to come to the wrong conclusion on global warming. Rick Perry isn’t smart enough to realize how stupid he appears to smart people when he says that he disbelieves in global warming.
HS’ cynicism and self-assuredness aside, it’s difficult to dispute that the popular conception is of more knowledgeable and well-educated people believing that human activity is driving changes in the climate in a significant and dangerous way and rubes denying it. Fortunately, the GSS lets us put that to the test, using wordsum scores as a proxy for intelligence. The following table shows the average responses by IQ group on the 5-point scale question in which respondents are asked how dangerous they think the rises in global temperatures from climate change are. For ease of comprehension, scores have been inverted so that the higher the score, the more dangerous the cohort thinks climate change is:
One standard deviation for the respondent poll is 1.17, so the difference between the most and least ‘alarmist’ groups is modest, at barely one-quarter of one standard deviation’s difference between their averages. Still, if anything, the trend is towards more skepticism of the dangers of climate change as intelligence increases, in contrast to what HS seems to correctly identify as the popular conception of who believes in climate change and who doesn’t.
That’s misleading, though, because less intelligent people are probably more inclined to buy into the potential for all kinds of catastrophes than smarter people are, whether it be a flood of biblical proportions, an alien invasion, or the zombie apocalypse. When presented with a list of ten environmental concerns and asked to select which one of them is the most pressing, the percentages who select climate change shake out as follows:
|IQ||CC worst prob|
As expected, the intellectually elite portion of the populous is significantly more likely to finger climate change as the biggest environmental problem the country faces than the rest of the population is.
To pick some low hanging fruit and validate stereotype that will come as no surprise to anyone of any persuasion, the average responses on the 5-point scale question about how dangerous climate change is, and the percentages of people who assert that it is the most pressing environmental problem of our time, by political orientation:
|Orientation||CC worst prob|
Self-described moderates tend to be less intelligent than either liberals or conservatives are, but the liberal-conservative gap is negligible, so that confound isn’t much of a problem here. It’s clear that opinions on climate change, rather than being stratified primarily by intelligence, track with political orientation (something HS mentions occurs often in his post, although he curiously does not carry this through to his discussion on climate change in particular). Because major media generally portrays liberals as open-minded and enlightened and conservatives as close-minded and hidebound, the move from liberals being worried about climate change to intelligent people being worried about climate change is an easy one to make in the popular mind.
As someone utterly lacking in credentials of any kind to offer an informed perspective on climate change and its consequences, I’m more skeptical of the calls for increased regulations on and centralized bureaucratic control over energy consumption than I am over whether or not we’re experiencing appreciable warming. I’m unconvinced that warming, which has generally been beneficial for humanity, will (or would?) be a bad thing (and could be beneficial in many ways), especially the farther away from the equator one moves.
But it’s tough to reject the smarties out-of-hand when they encourage me with their support of nuclear power! The following table shows the percentages of people by IQ who think nuclear power should be the US’ top energy priority in the future:
GSS variables used: FUTENRGY, TEMPGEN1, ENPRBUS, WORDSUM, POLVIEWS(1-3)(4)(5-7)
* Respondents are broken up into five categories that roughly forms a normal distribution; Really Smarts (wordsum score of 9-10, comprising 13% of the population), Pretty Smarts (7-8, 26%), Normals (6, 22%), Pretty Dumbs (4-5, 27%), and Real Dumbs (0-3, 12%)