LINCOLN — A majority of rural Nebraskans believe the state should start adapting to a changing climate, according to a survey conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this year.
Sixty-one percent of the more than 2,200 respondents to the Nebraska Rural Poll said the state should begin preparing for climate change in order to reduce its impact on agriculture, rural communities, forestry and natural resources.
That indicates Nebraskans are more interested in moving forward in the conversation surrounding climate change than simply debating whether or not climate change is taking place, said Tonya Haigh, a rural sociologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL.
“People were very interested in discussing how we can adapt to future climate trends and climate change impacts,” Haigh said. “That’s sort of taking the conversation forward beyond an argument of who’s causing it and why it’s being caused.”
This year’s poll, the 20th annual survey of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues, follows an 88-page impact study on the changing climate of Nebraska published last year.
According to UNL researchers who completed the study, rising temperatures in the state could evaporate soil moisture and cause a drop in crop and livestock production.
More 100-degree days in the summer would strain the state’s water resources, disrupting the state’s largest economic sector — agriculture — even further.
Instead of asking broad questions about climate change as was done in the 2008 and 2013 Nebraska Rural Polls, this year's survey gauged rural Nebraska’s response to issues brought up within the report.
Nebraskans indicated their trust in UNL experts, with 70 percent of respondents saying they believed information coming from the university, 61 percent saying they trust scientists in general, and 55 percent indicating trust in doctors and public health experts as sources of information on climate change.
Respondents also trust television weather reporters, state and federal agencies and environmental organizations, the poll found, while distrusting traditional and social media, radio hosts, online blogs and podcasts.
Sixty percent of the survey responders also agreed the university should be helping agricultural producers, rural communities and others adapt to climate change.
Haigh said those efforts are already underway at places like the National Drought Mitigation Center, where the data generated by the survey helps inform researchers how they can better serve a rural population.
“We’ve been involved in some work trying to better understand how people at the local level are affected by climate extremes in general by working with farmers in the Corn Belt and ranchers throughout the Great Plains to understand how folks have been impacted,” she said.
Other poll results indicate rural Nebraskans are mixed on the potential health impacts of climate change, with few reporting health problems in 2012, when a major drought struck the state, or this year.
But survey responders remain committed to developing more environmentally friendly energy resources, the results show, which is in line with previous polls according to Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute.
Eight in 10 respondents said Nebraska should do more to build the state’s solar or wind energy production, while roughly 60 percent agreed resources like ethanol or biodiesel should be explored in greater depth.
The results illustrate Nebraskans' independent thinking on the broader issues of climate change, Haigh said: "People have opinions on things like energy development that aren't necessarily tied to other political beliefs."
The survey, which can be found online at ruralpoll.unl.edu, will be distributed outside UNL to several audiences, Vogt said.
“We always hope state leaders will look at the information and use that when they are making policy or other decisions as well,” she said. “We’ll get the information back to rural residents, too, so they can see the results.”
Haigh said the data generated by the survey should play an important role in policy discussions moving forward.