Be the first to hear about new surveys and studies.

Climate Change in the American Mind: 2009


Climate Change in the American Mind: 2009

Report Summary

In September and October of 2008 a research team from Yale and George Mason Universities conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,164 American adults. Survey participants were asked about their issue priorities for the new administration and Congress, support and opposition regarding climate change and energy policies, levels of political and consumer activism, and beliefs about the reality and risks of global warming.

Overall, the survey found that concerns about the economy dwarfed all other issues: 76 percent of Americans said that the economy was a “very high” priority. Global warming ranked 10th out of 11 national issues; nonetheless it remains a high or very high national priority for a majority of Americans. In addition, 72 percent of Americans said that the issue of global warming is important to them personally.

In line with these concerns, large majorities of Americans said that everyone – companies, political leaders at all levels of government, and individual citizens – should do more to reduce global warming. Likewise, despite the economic crisis, over 90 percent of Americans said that the United States should act to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs. This included 34 percent who said the U.S. should make a large-scale effort, even if it has large economic costs.

Americans strongly supported unilateral action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: 67% said the United States should reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, regardless of what other countries do, while only 7 percent said we should act only if other industrialized and developing countries (such as China, India, and Brazil) reduce their emissions.

The study also identified the positive outcomes that Americans expect if the nation takes steps to reduce global warming, as well as the outcomes that were most important to them. Two-thirds said that reducing global warming would provide a better life for our children and grandchildren (66%) and would save many plant and animal species from extinction (65%). About half said that it would improve people’s health (54%), free us from dependence on foreign oil (48%), or protect God’s creation (48%). Of these, the outcomes subsequently selected as the most important personally were providing a better life for our children and grandchildren (25%) and protecting God’s creation (19%). Americans’ primary concerns about taking action to reduce global warming were that it would lead to more government regulation (44%), cause energy prices to rise (31%), or cost jobs and harm our economy (17%). However, among those who foresaw both positive and negative outcomes, 92 percent said that despite their concerns, the nation should act to reduce global warming.

Key Statistics

Large majorities of Americans also supported policies that had a directly stated economic cost (such as increased fuel efficiency for vehicles).

Large majorities of Americans said that everyone - companies, political leaders at all levels of government, and individual citizens - should do more to reduce global warming.

92 percent of Americans supported more funding for research on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.