Public knowledge about polar regions increases but concerns remain unchanged

polar bears near north pole

polar bears near north pole

Americans’ knowledge of facts about the polar regions of the globe has increased since 2006, but this increase in knowledge has not translated into more concern about changing polar environments, according to new research from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

“People’s knowledge of polar regions and issues improved from 2006 to 2010, consistent with hopes that the International Polar Year in 2007 would boost public awareness. Unfortunately, we did not see a companion increase in concern about the environmental changes in these regions, due, in part, to ideological and political divisions,” said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology at UNH and a senior fellow at the Carsey Institute.

Researchers found that the public’s knowledge about the north and south polar regions showed modest gains, with the average “polar knowledge score” improved from 53 to 59 percent. But concern about climate change in the polar regions showed no up or down trend, and there were no changes in support for reserving the Antarctic for science. However, the researchers found there has been an increase in political disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on climate-related questions.

“Among the environment-related issues, all but reserving Antarctica for science show increasing political polarization — and even support for reserv­ing the Antarctic divides along party lines. Polar issues, like many other topics in science, increasingly are viewed by the public through politically tinted glasses,” Hamilton said.

The complete Carsey Institute report is available here. The research was conducted by Hamilton, Matthew Cutler, graduate student in sociology, and Andrew Schaefer, graduate student in sociology and a research assistant at the Carsey Institute.

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