Many drivers of polar-region change originate in mid-latitude industrial societies, so public perceptions there matter. Building on earlier surveys of US public knowledge and concern, a series of New Hampshire state surveys over 2011–2015 tracked public knowledge of some basic polar facts. Analysis indicates that these facts subjectively fall into two categories: those that are or are not directly connected to beliefs about climate change. Responses to climate-linked factual questions, such as whether Arctic sea ice area has declined compared with 30 years ago, are politicized as if we were asking for climate-change opinions. Political divisions are less apparent with factual questions that do not suggest climate change, such as whether the North Pole is on land or sea ice. Only 38% of respondents could answer that question correctly, and even fewer (30%) knew or guessed correctly that melting of Greenland and Antarctic land ice, rather than Arctic sea ice, could potentially do the most to raise sea levels. At odds with the low levels of factual knowledge, most respondents say they have a moderate amount or a great deal of understanding about climate change. A combination of low knowledge with high self-assessed understanding characterizes almost half our sample and correlates with political views. The low knowledge/high understanding combination is most prevalent among Tea Party supporters, where it reaches 61%. It also occurs often (60%) among people who do not believe climate is changing. These results emphasize that diverse approaches are needed to communicate about science with people having different configurations of certainty and knowledge.
Taylor & Francis
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Hamilton, L.C. 2015. “Polar facts in the age of polarization.” Polar Geography 38(2):89–106.doi: 10.1080/1088937X.2015.1051158