21 November 2014 (PRRI) – Americans rank climate change last on a list of important issues. Only five percent of Americans say climate change is the most important issue facing the U.S. today. The issue of climate change ranks behind the lack of jobs (22%), the increasing gap between rich and poor (18%), health care (17%), the budget deficit (13%), immigration reform (10%), and the rising cost of education (9%).
When asked which environmental problem is most important for the current administration to tackle, nearly 3-in-10 (29%) Americans point to air, water, and soil pollution. One-quarter (25%) of Americans say climate change is the most pressing environment problem, while a similar number (23%) identify water shortages and drought. Fewer Americans cite the shrinking of wilderness areas and animal habitats (11%) or endangered species (4%) as the most critical environmental issue.
Americans are significantly more likely to believe that people living in poorer developing countries will be harmed by climate change than they are to say that they personally, or U.S. residents as a whole, will be negatively affected by climate change.
- Less than one-quarter (24%) of Americans believe that they will be personally harmed a great deal by climate change, while 30% say climate change will affect them a moderate amount. More than 4-in-10 Americans say climate change will have only a little (23%) or no impact (22%) on them personally.
- One-third (33%) of Americans say the U.S. public overall will experience a great deal of harm due to climate change, while 35% say the U.S. public will experience a moderate amount of harm. Three-in-ten Americans say that climate change will impact people living in the U.S. only a little (18%) or not at all (12%).
- A majority (54%) of Americans say that people living in poorer developing countries will be harmed a great deal as a result of climate change, while 20% say they will experience a moderate amount of harm. Less than one-quarter of Americans believe that people living in developing countries will be affected only a little (10%) or not at all (12%) as a result of climate change.
About one-quarter (23%) of Americans say that climate change is a crisis and 36% say it is a major problem, while nearly 4-in-10 Americans say climate change is a minor problem (23%) or not a problem at all (16%).
The Climate Change Concern Index—a composite measure that combines perceptions about whether climate change is a crisis and whether it will have adverse personal effects—finds that nearly 3-in-10 (29%) Americans are very concerned about climate change, 21% are somewhat concerned, 29% are somewhat unconcerned, and 21% are very unconcerned.
- More than 7-in-10 Hispanic Americans are very (46%) or somewhat (25%) concerned about the impact of climate change. Similarly, nearly 6-in-10 black Americans are very (36%) or somewhat (21%) concerned about climate change. By contrast, less than half of white Americans are very (23%) or somewhat (20%) concerned about climate change.
- Two-thirds of Democrats are very or somewhat concerned about climate change (41% and 26%, respectively), compared to fewer than 3-in-10 Republicans (14% and 15%, respectively). Independents are nearly evenly divided.
More than 6-in-10 (63%) Americans agree that dealing with climate change now will help avoid more serious economic problems in the future, while 3-in-10 (30%) say that given our current economic problems, we cannot afford to deal with climate change right now.
- The generational differences on this question are modest. Nearly 7-in-10 (68%) young adults (age 18-29) say we should deal with climate change now, compared to 59% of seniors (age 65 and older).
Americans’ perspectives on whether the global temperature is rising have remained stable over the past few years. Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Americans believe there is solid evidence that the earth’s average temperature has been increasing over the past few decades, while approximately one-quarter of Americans (26%) say they do not believe the earth is getting warmer. In 2011, an identical number of Americans (69%) said they believed that the earth’s average temperature was rising.
To better understand the range of belief in climate change, PRRI identified three groups of Americans, divided by their opinions about the existence and causes of climate change.
- Close to half (46%) of Americans say that the earth is getting warmer and that these changes are primarily the result of human activity. We characterize this group as climate change “Believers.”
- One-quarter (25%) of Americans believe the global temperature is rising, but say the change is due to natural fluctuations in the earth’s environment or are uncertain about its cause. We describe this group as climate change “Sympathizers.”
- Finally, more than one-quarter (26%) of Americans say there is no solid evidence that the earth’s temperature has been rising over the past few decades. We call this group climate change “Skeptics.”
Skeptics were asked to share, in their words, why they believe the earth’s temperature is not increasing. Answers varied considerably, but the most frequently cited reason (33% of all open-ended answers) was that they have not noticed a change in the weather around them.
Climate change Believers are substantially more likely to than Sympathizers or Skeptics to score high on the Climate Change Concern Index.
- Nearly three-quarters of Believers are very (47%) or somewhat (27%) concerned about climate change.
- About 4-in-10 Sympathizers are very (20%) or somewhat (22%) concerned about climate change.
- Less than 1-in-5 Skeptics are very (7%) concerned or somewhat (11%) concerned about climate change, while more than 8-in-10 say they are somewhat (31%) or very (51%) unconcerned.
Democrats have a higher percentage of climate change Believers within their ranks, while Republicans and Americans who identify with the Tea Party are more likely to be climate change Skeptics.
- Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Democrats are climate change Believers, 20% are Sympathizers, and 13% are Skeptics.
- Less than 1-in-4 (22%) Republicans are climate change Believers, 28% are Sympathizers, and nearly half (46%) are Skeptics.
- Americans who identify with the Tea Party are even more skeptical about the existence of climate change than Republicans. Less than one-quarter (23%) of Tea Party members are climate change Believers, 23% are Sympathizers, and a majority (53%) are Skeptics.
White evangelical Protestants are more likely than any other religious group to be climate change Skeptics. Only 27% of white evangelical Protestants are climate change Believers, while 29% are Sympathizers and nearly 4-in-10 (39%) are Skeptics. […]
Although a majority (54%) of Americans believe that science and religion are often in conflict, substantially fewer say that science clashes with their own religious beliefs. Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) Americans say that science does not conflict with their religious beliefs, while roughly 4-in-10 (38%) disagree saying that science sometimes conflicts with their religious beliefs. These attitudes have remained stable over the last few years.
When asked about these causes separately, Americans are more likely to say that recent natural disasters are the result of climate change (62%) than biblical “end times” (49%).
- The number of Americans who believe natural disasters are evidence of the apocalypse has increased since 2011, when only 44% agreed.
- White evangelical Protestants are much more likely to attribute the severity of recent natural disasters to the biblical “end times” (77%) than to climate change (49%).
Most Americans do not believe that God would intercede to prevent humans from destroying the earth. Approximately 4-in-10 (39%) Americans believe that God would not allow humans to destroy the earth, while a majority (53%) of Americans disagree.
Americans generally reject the idea that God intended humans to use the earth strictly for their own benefit. Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Americans say God gave humans the task of living responsibly with animals, plants, and other resources, which are not just for human benefit. By contrast, about one-third (35%) of Americans believe that God gave human beings the right to use animals, plants, and all other resources of the planet solely for their own benefit. [more]
By Emma Green
22 November 2014
The parade of geological changes and extreme weather events around the world since 2011 has been stunning. Perhaps that's part of why, as the Public Religion Research Institute reported on Friday, "The number of Americans who believe that natural disasters are evidence of the apocalypse has increased somewhat over the past couple years."
As of 2014, it's estimated that nearly half of Americans—49 percent—say natural disasters are a sign of "the end times," as described in the Bible. That's up from an estimated 44 percent in 2011.
This belief is more prevalent in some religious communities than others. White evangelical Protestants, for example, are more likely than any other group to believe that natural disasters are a sign of the end times, and they're least likely to assign some of the blame to climate change (participants were allowed to select both options if they wanted). Black Protestants were close behind white evangelicals in terms of apprehending the apocalypse, but they were also the group most likely to believe in climate change, too. Predictably, the religiously unaffiliated were the least likely to believe superstorms are apocalyptic—but even so, a third of that group said they see signs of the end times in the weather. […]
[A] large portion of Americans don't think humans are responsible for changes in the earth's temperature or weather, whether or not they think God's involved. A majority of respondents said they either don't believe the earth's temperature is rising, or they believe it but think it's happening for a reason other than human activity. Less than a third of respondents said they are "very concerned" about climate change, and half said they're "somewhat unconcerned" or "unconcerned." A 2014 survey by Pew Research Center yielded slightly different results: In it, 61 percent of Americans agreed that the earth's temperature is rising, and of that group, 40 percent attributed the warming to human activity.
But in general, this just isn't an topic Americans seem to prioritize. In the new PRRI survey, participants rated climate change as less important than many other issues, including unemployment, income inequality, healthcare, the deficit, immigration, and education reform. [more]