Many rural Nebraskans are concerned about potential weather problems in their area and most believe the state should develop a plan for adapting to climate change to reduce its impact on agriculture, communities and natural resources, the Nebraska Rural Poll shows.
Forty-eight percent of rural Nebraskans are concerned or very concerned about more severe droughts or longer dry periods in their area. Fourty-one percent are concerned about insect-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and 39 percent are concerned about more extreme summer temperatures.
Most support a plan for adapting to climate change, regardless of whether they attribute change in climate to natural cycles or human activity. Sixty-one percent agree or strongly agree that Nebraska should develop a plan for adapting to climate change to reduce its impact on agriculture, rural communities, forestry and natural resources. Seventeen percent disagree with the statement. Sixty-three percent agree or strongly agree that the University of Nebraska should be helping agricultural producers, rural communities and others to adapt to climate change. Fifteen percent disagree with that statement.
"These results show that Nebraskans are ready to move forward on climate preparedness," said Tonya Haigh, rural sociologist at the UNL National Drought Mitigation Center. Haigh worked with climate researchers and the polling group on questions related to climate, energy and health.
Rural Nebraskans are also very supportive of renewable energy sources. Eighty percent agree that more should be done to develop solar or wind energy in Nebraska, and 59 percent think more should be done to develop ethanol or biodiesel energy in the state. Furthermore, about three-quarters believe the state should invest more in both wind and solar energy. One-half think more should be invested in hydroelectric energy.
"Rural Nebraskans have consistently expressed support for wind and renewable energy in previous polls," said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute. "This year's findings demonstrate that again."
Other poll findings show mixed opinions about the health impacts of climate change. Few reported their household experiencing health problems during the drought of 2012. However, 38 percent of persons with occupations in agriculture experienced increased anxiety or stress during the drought.
Similarly, many do not believe climate change is harming their health or members of their family's health now. However, opinions are mixed on whether that will happen within the next 25 years.
Most receive information about climate change from traditional media sources such as newspapers, television and radio. Many also read information from an article or story they found on the Internet. Seventy percent trust University of Nebraska experts, 61 percent trust scientists in general and 55 percent trust doctors and other public health experts as sources of information about climate change. Many also trust television weather reporters, state agencies, environmental organizations and federal agencies. However, most rural Nebraskans distrust social media and online blogs and podcasts as sources of information about climate change. Many distrust the mainstream news media as well as radio talk show hosts.
"These results underscore the fact that the University of Nebraska is widely respected as a source of unbiased, valuable information," Haigh said. "It shows that the university has a critical role to play in our state's adaptation to changing climate conditions in the years ahead."
The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans' perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year's response rate was 32 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available online at http://ruralpoll.unl.edu.
"With its 20-year history, the poll has a collection of data about rural trends and perceptions that is unmatched in the country," said Becky Vogt, survey research manager who's been working on the Rural Poll since its second year.
Although the Grand Island area (Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties) was designated a metropolitan area by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, the Rural Poll continues to include those counties in its sample. Also, Dixon and Dakota counties were added to the poll last year.
The university's Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute with funding from Nebraska Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Read more coverage of poll results in the Lincoln Journal-Star.