The characteristics for each of these categories is pulled from the 2009 Global Warming's Six Americas research from Yale.
- The Dismissive - they're sure climate change isn't happening (or at the very least is not caused by humans), it's not important to them on a personal level, and they don't worry about it; however, they contend they are well-informed and highly unlikely to change their mind; they think the scientific community does not agree on the causes of climate change or that the scientific consensus is instead that climate change is not happening. We could also call this group climate change deniers.
- The Doubtful - these folks aren't sure if it's happening or not, but like the dismissive group, this issue is not important to them on a personal level and they don't worry about it. While they also find a lot of disagreement among scientists, the Doubtful consider themselves less informed on the issue than the Dismissive. And while the Dismissive group does not see climate change affecting people in the US ever, the Doubtful think it won't affect people in the US for at least 100 years, but could after that. We could also call this group climate change skeptics.
- The Disengaged - this is an interesting group because they identify as the mostly likely to change their minds on the topic. So while they haven't previously thought much about the issue broadly or from a personal perspective, and they only know a limited among about it, some disengaged folks do believe people are the cause of the change, but they just don't know enough about it to know whether scientists agree on that. They give just a 30-year time horizon for impacts to negatively affect the US.
- The Cautious - this segment of people haven't thought too much about the issue, but are open to the idea that humans are causing the changes we see in the climate. And while it might not be of high personal importance or perceived threat to them, they recognize the future threat it poses.
- The Concerned - these folks understand the scientific consensus on the issue, but are decidedly not as emphatic as the Alarmed. And while they might not think it's currently a problem for people in the US, they only put the time horizon on it becoming a problem at about 10 years. Generally, they feel relatively well-informed about the issue, but haven't devoted as much time to it as the Alarmed.
- The Alarmed - this portion of the population is most convinced about climate change; it's very important to them, and they're really worried about. They believe themselves to be very well-informed and, much like the Dismissive group on the other side, they are highly unlikely to be persuaded away from their current stance on the issue. They view climate change as a current threat to themselves and others.
It's important to note that misinformation at either end of the spectrum - either from Alarmists (which I would describe as a small faction of the Alarmed category as described by the folks at Yale) or the Dismissive is problematic in advancing sensible and appropriate action to address the causes and consequences of climate change. For instance, ten years ago, it wasn't yet clear whether climate change would cause more intense and more frequent hurricanes; but we now understand that it does and will continue to do so. The disagreements among scientists on this topic were pretty intense. Climate alarmists, like their dismissive counterparts, tend to leave little room for doubt or caveats. In contrast, climate scientists tend to be a cautious lot and usually prevaricate by using terms like “likely,” “unlikely,” “possible,” and “probable.” Frankly, though, in the ten years I've been teaching these courses, many of the topics that used to be relegated only to alarmists (like hurricane intensity) have been proven with rigorous and replicable science, and so the line between a climate change alarmist and centrist is getting a bit blurrier. Could that be because the evidence suggests we need to be alarmed?