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Climate Change in the American Mind: October 2017


Executive Summary

This report documents an upward trend in Americans’ concern about global warming, as reflected in several key indicators tracked since 2008, including substantial increases in Americans’ certainty that global warming is happening and harming people in the United States now. The percentage of Americans that are very worried about global warming has more than doubled since its lowest point in 2011. Increasing numbers of Americans say they have personally experienced global warming and that the issue is personally important to them. Details on these and other measures of global warming beliefs and attitudes are described below:

  • Seven in ten Americans (71%) think global warming is happening, an increase of eight percentage points since March 2015. Only about one in eight Americans (13%) think global warming is not happening. Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by more than 5 to 1.
  • Americans are also becoming certain global warming is happening – 47% are “extremely” or “very” sure it is happening, an increase of 10 percentage points since March 2015. By contrast, far fewer – 7% – are “extremely” or “very sure” global warming is not happening.
  • Over half of Americans (54%) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. By contrast, one in three (33%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
  • Only about one in seven Americans (15%) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.
  • More than six in ten Americans (63%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. About one in five (22%) are “very worried” about it – the highest levels since our surveys began, and twice the proportion that were “very worried” in March 2015.
  • Two in three Americans feel “interested” in global warming (67%), and more than half feel “disgusted” (55%) or “helpless” (52%). Fewer than half feel “hopeful” (44%).
  • Nearly two in three Americans (64%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and one in three think weather is being affected “a lot” (33%), an increase of 8 percentage points since May 2017.
  • A majority of Americans think global warming made several extreme events in 2017 worse, including the heat waves in California (55%) and Arizona (51%), hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria (54%), and wildfires in the western U.S. (52%).
  • More than three in four Americans (78%) are interested in learning about how global warming is or is not affecting extreme weather events.
  • More than four in ten Americans (44%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, an increase of 13 percentage points since March 2015.
  • Four in ten Americans (42%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now.” The proportion that believes people are being harmed “right now” has increased by 10 percentage points since March 2015.
  • Half of Americans think they (50%) or their family (54%) will be harmed by global warming. Even more think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (67%), the world’s poor or people in developing countries (both 71%), future generations of people (75%) or plant and animal species (75%).
  • Most Americans think global warming will have future impacts, causing more melting glaciers (67%), severe heat waves (64%), droughts and water shortages (63%), floods (61%), and other impacts over the next 20 years.
  • Two in three Americans (67%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely” (12%), “very” (19%), or “somewhat” (37%) important to them personally, while one in three (33%) say it is either “not too” (19%) or “not at all” (14%) important personally. The proportion that say it is personally important has increased by 11 percentage points since March 2015.
  • Nearly four in ten Americans (38%) say they discuss global warming with family and friends “often” or “occasionally,” an increase of 12 percentage points since March 2015. However, more say they “rarely” or “never” discuss it (62%). Additionally, half of Americans (51%) say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month, and one in four (25%) say they hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month.
  • More than half of Americans (54%) say they have thought “a lot” (22%) or “some” (32%) about global warming. Fewer say they have thought about global warming just “a little” (32%) or “not at all” (14%).
  • Few Americans are confident that humans will reduce global warming. Nearly half (48%) say humans could reduce global warming, but it’s unclear at this point whether we will do what is necessary, and one in four (25%) say we won’t reduce global warming because people are unwilling to change their behavior. Only 5% say humans can and will successfully reduce global warming.
  • Large majorities of Americans think of global warming as an environmental (78%), scientific (71%), agricultural (66%), severe weather (65%), health (62%), economic (60%), or political issue (60%). Fewer think it is a moral (41%), national security (29%), poverty (28%), social justice (26%), or religious issue (9%).