Brulle is a professor of sociology and environmental science in the College of Arts and Sciences who studies the mechanics behind social movements.
Robert Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science at the College of Arts and Sciences, conducted a study to identify the international, cultural and political processes that influence the public’s attitude concerning climate changes.
The study, performed with Jason Carmichael of McGill University and J. Craig Jenkins of Ohio State University, was recently published in Climactic Change, one of the world’s top 10 climate science journals. The trio’s paper, “Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002-2010,” uses empirical analysis to examine the many factors affecting U.S. public concern about the threat of climate change from January 2002 through December 2010.
In 2004, about 26 percent of the respondents stated that they worried “a great deal” about global warming. By 2007, this proportion had risen to 41 percent. But by 2010, that number dropped to 28 percent.
The question, of course, is simple: Why?
“Public opinion regarding climate change is likely to remain divided as long as the political elite send out conflicting messages on this issue.”
-Robert Brulle, professor of sociology and environmental science
Brulle and his colleagues accounted for five factors when designing the study: extreme weather events, public access to accurate scientific information, media coverage, elite cues and movement/countermovement advocacy. A time-series analysis indicates that public concern about climate change is affected the most by elite cues—specifically, conflicting policy cues from political party leaders—and structural economic factors.
“Public opinion regarding climate change is likely to remain divided as long as the political elite send out conflicting messages on this issue,” Brulle says.
The state of the economy also affects public opinion on climate change, but the other factors considered during the study were less influential. For instance, extreme weather events did not have a significant effect in the overall level of public concern regarding climate change, Brulle says.