The Earth is gradually warming, but a majority of Cape May County residents don’t believe it will harm them personally.
That’s one of a dozen public opinion estimates published earlier this year in Yale University’s Climate Opinion Map.
The map shows how New Jersey residents living along and near the coast think about climate change, as well as how local views compare to those nationwide.
Researchers over the past three years have surveyed 22,000 people across the country and estimated public opinion in every U.S. county based on factors including age, gender, education and political affiliation.
Among the findings: 60 percent of Cape May County residents are worried about climate change, but only 37 percent think it will harm them personally. Seventy-one percent say it will harm future generations.
In Atlantic County, the results are similar. Sixty-five percent are worried about global warming, 43 percent say it will harm them personally and 74 percent believe their children are in danger.
“We see a general trend of counties in coastal areas having residents that are more worried about this topic,” said Dr. Peter Howe, an assistant professor of human-environment geography at Utah State University who worked on the project.
But the biggest predictor of someone’s opinion? Political affiliation, Howe says.
Howe said Republican voters tended to be less worried about climate change compared to Democrats, and see it as not caused by human activity.
In Atlantic County, 58 percent say global warming is caused by humans. Fifty-five percent in Cape May County agree.
“There are a number of counties that are directly experiencing flooding due to sea-level rise,” Howe said, “but the strongest predictor by far of your opinion on global warming is what your political party is.”
Still, Howe said the two parties strongly agree on some policy solutions.
The opinion map shows broad support for regulating CO2 as a pollutant, providing tax rebates for energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels and teaching about global warming in schools in South Jersey.
Eric Stiles, president of New Jersey Audubon, said the estimates show that residents of the state understand climate change is occurring, likely because it's effects are more visible along the coast with increased flooding.
In New Jersey, 74 percent believe global warming is happening and 75 percent say it will harm future generations, both higher than the U.S. average.
"Folks of New Jersey see it occurring," Stiles said. "There's an urgency, and I'm proud to live in a state where leaders want to respond to climate change."