Where Is the North Pole?
The north and south polar regions have been rapidly changing, affecting global weather and sea levels and sparking international concern about shipping and resources. While these global impacts occur, physical changes such as warming and less ice directly affect ecosystems and people living in polar regions. President Obama, visiting the northern Alaska town of Kotzebue in summer 2015, noted the impact of climate change on the American Arctic, where several towns may be abandoned due to rising flood risks in the next few decades, if not sooner.
To explore public knowledge and perceptions about climate change, University of New Hampshire researchers conducted the first Polar, Environment, and Science (POLES) survey in August 2016. A random sample of U.S. adults were asked for their views regarding science, climate change, sources of information, current problems, and possible solutions. In addition, the survey tested basic geographical knowledge related to polar regions, such as whether the United States has a significant population living in the Arctic, and what respondents know about the location of the North Pole.
Results from the survey highlight areas of knowledge, uncertainty, and division. Public views on almost everything related to climate change—acceptance of basic science observations, trusted sources of information, the seriousness of current problems, or the need for any policy response—exhibit wide differences depending on political orientation. In this election year, such divisions appear as stark contrasts between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Geographic questions that are not obviously tied to climate beliefs evoke less political division, but often reveal low levels of background knowledge.