The survey published Wednesday found 94 percent of Americans believe our planet is warming and 87 percent that humans contribute at least a little bit to climate change. Those figures represent some of the most widespread support ever for the once-controversial topic.
Both results come from a poll question that independent research firm Kelton Global asked respondents about responsibility: Are we the primary cause, contributing cause, not a cause or is there no such thing as climate change/global warming? Just 6 percent said the phenomena doesn't exist and most said humans had at least a little responsibility.
The results about this human link to climate change are about 20 points higher than a Gallup poll released in March. That survey found just 65 percent of Americans believed humans were a root cause for our changing world, a number the agency called an all-time high.
Climatologist Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the latest data did sound "unusually high (though welcome)." And Angela Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists noted recent polls have "been in the high 70 percent for a while and into the 80 percent in the last year or so."
So despite the discrepancy in statistics, American perception of our link to climate change is definitely shifting. We might not all be worried about it (that same Gallup poll found just 64 percent of people were concerned), but we're not sticking our heads in the sand anymore.
Scientists have long said humans are at fault for our changing world. While the effects of climate change range from the ongoing bleaching of the world's coral reefs to the increased severity of extreme weather, global warming itself has ramped up in recent decades. This past March was the warmest such month since records began, continuing an ongoing streak that most recently culminated in 2015 being the hottest year since at least 1880.
But widespread support for this link might not be terribly noticeable as both the media and political leadership either refuse to ask about the issue or flatly deny its existence, despite world leaders' insistence that it will be the "greatest threat" of our time.
The biggest faction that seems to reject the science behind climate change and the resultant global warming seems to be leaders in the Republican party. Almost every candidate for the GOP presidential nomination rejected evidence that shows the climate is changing, and humans are the cause. The current front-runners, businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have both stood by their positions. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is no better.
Environmental leaders have said this shift in public awareness may very well be due to the perceptible changes to our world, not politicizing. Lindsay Meiman, communications director for the environmental organization 350.org, said "people are experiencing real impacts of climate change everyday," citing recent flooding in Houston and the ongoing drought in California.
Anderson, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, linked increased awareness with highly public steps to address global warming, pointing to the landmark climate summit in Paris last year where more than 190 nations agreed to cut emissions in an effort to avoid the worst effects of climate change. That deal will be ratified at the United Nations on Friday.
"Over the past year, people have seen countries around the world approve the Paris agreement, heard the Pope's call to action, and seen ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel company deception on climate exposed," she said in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post. "These factors are helping to normalize the issue, [and] make it less polarized."
In December, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben held out hope humans could still act on climate change, but he faulted the Paris talks as being too lenient and "unenforceable." Rather, he called on the world to "build the [climate] movement even bigger in the coming years, so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action."
Those actions center around a simple notion: leave all remaining fossil fuels in the ground. While a gargantuan task, some of the world's biggest polluters, including coal-hungry China, have already agreed to take concrete steps to at least limit their emissions within the next decade.
And advances in technology may soon make renewable energy cheaper than oil and coal.
With most Americans finally on par with established science, the momentum behind this eco-positive awareness is certainly building if Tesla's Model 3 orders are any indication. Other acts, like the 400,000-strong People's Climate March in New York and the fossil fuel divestment movement, show that an educated populace can indeed lead to earth-friendly decisions.
McKibben and others have long called for such wielding of this people power.
"I've never thought the problem was the number of people who believed; it's the number that will get engaged in the fight with the fossil fuel industry," he told HuffPost, referencing the most recent poll. "Happily that figure is shooting up as well."
The Nat Geo WILD/Kelton poll was conducted among 1,053 Americans aged 18 and older using an email invitation and online survey. Data was gathered between March 28 and April 3, 2016 and has a margin of error +/- 3 points.