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Climate Change in the American Mind: December 2018


Executive Summary

This report documents a continued 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 proportion of Americans who are very worried about global warming has more than tripled 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. Notable findings include:

  • Seven in ten Americans (73%) think global warming is happening, an increase of ten percentage points since March 2015. Only about one in seven Americans (14%) think global warming is not happening. Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it isn’t by more than a 5 to 1 ratio.
  • Americans are also increasingly certain that global warming is happening – 51% are “extremely” or “very” sure it is happening, an increase of 14 percentage points since March 2015, matching the highest level since 2008. By contrast, far fewer – 7% – are “extremely” or “very sure” global warming is not happening.
  • About six in ten Americans (62%) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. By contrast, about one in four (23%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
  • More than half of Americans (57%) understand that most scientists agree that global warming is happening, the highest level since 2008. However, only one in five (20%) understand how strong the level of consensus among scientists is (i.e., that more than 90% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening).
  • About seven in ten Americans (69%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. About three in ten (29%) are “very worried” about it – the highest level since our surveys began in 2008.
  • About seven in ten Americans are “interested” in global warming (69%). Majorities also feel “disgusted” (53%) and/or “helpless” (51%). Nearly half are “hopeful” (48%).
  • Few Americans think it’s too late to do anything about global warming (14%).
  • Nearly half of Americans (46%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, an increase of 15 percentage points since March 2015.
  • Nearly half of Americans (48%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now.” The proportion who believe people are being harmed “right now” has increased by 16 percentage points since March 2015 and by nine points since our previous survey in March 2018.
  • About half or more Americans think they (49%), their family (56%), and/or people in their community (57%) will be harmed by global warming. Even more think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (65%), the world’s poor (67%), people in developing countries (68%), plant and animal species (74%), and/or future generations of people (75%).
  • About seven in ten Americans (72%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” important to them personally, while only about three in ten (28%) say it is either “not too” or “not at all” personally important. The proportion who say it is personally important has increased by 16 percentage points since March 2015, and by nine points since our previous survey in March 2018.
  • About four in ten Americans (41%) say they discuss global warming with family and friends “often” or “occasionally,” an increase of 15 percentage points since March 2015. However, more say they “rarely” or “never” discuss it (59%), although this reflects a 15-point decrease since March 2015.
  • More than half of Americans (56%) say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month, an increase of 13 percentage points since our previous survey in March 2018.
  • Fewer than half of Americans perceive a social norm in which their friends and family expect them to take action on global warming. Forty-six percent think it is at least moderately important to their family and friends that they take action (an injunctive norm), and four in ten (40%) say their family and friends make at least a moderate effort to reduce global warming (a descriptive norm).
  • About two in three Americans (65%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and three in ten think weather is being affected “a lot” (32%). About half think global warming made the 2018 wildfires in the Western U.S. (50%) and/or hurricanes Florence and Michael (49%) worse.
  • A majority of Americans are worried about harm from extreme events in their local area including extreme heat (61%), flooding (61%), droughts (58%), and/or water shortages (51%).