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Climate Change in the American Mind: November 2016

Key Findings

  • Seven in ten Americans (70%) think global warming is happening, which nearly matches the highest level (71%), recorded in 2008. By contrast, only about one in eight Americans (13%) think global warming is not happening.
  • Americans are also more certain global warming is happening – the proportion who are “extremely” or “very” sure it is happening (45%) is at its highest level since 2008. By contrast, far fewer – 7% – are “extremely” or “very sure” global warming is not happening.
  • Over half of Americans (55%) understand that global warming is mostly human caused, which is the highest level since November 2008. By contrast, three in ten (30%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment – the lowest level recorded since 2008.
  • 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. However, this is an increase of 4 percentage points (from 11%) since March 2016.
  • Six in ten Americans (61%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. Further, the percentage of Americans who are “very worried” about global warming, 19%, is the highest recorded since our surveys began in 2008.
  • Two in three Americans (66%) say they are “interested” in global warming and about half say they feel “hopeful” (48%) about it. Large minorities also feel “helpless” (46%), “disgusted” (42%), and/or “afraid” (42%) when they think about global warming.
  • Six in ten Americans (60%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and half think weather is either being affected “a lot” (24%) or “some” (26%). However, even though the majority of Americans think global warming is affecting weather in the U.S., only about one in three Americans (36%) think people in the U.S. are being harmed by it “right now.”
  • Most Americans think global warming is a relatively distant threat – they are most likely to think that it will harm future generations of people (71%), plant and animal species (70%), people living in developing countries (65%), or the world’s poor (65%). They are less likely to think it will harm people in the U.S. (59%), people in their community (49%), their family (46%), or themselves (41%).
  • About one in three Americans (36%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, two in three (64%) say they have not.
  • Only one in three Americans (33%) discuss global warming with family and friends “often” or “occasionally,” while most say they rarely or never discuss it (67%).
  • Six in ten Americans (61%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely” (10%), “very” (17%), or “somewhat” (34%) important to them personally. Four in ten (39%) say it is either “not too” (22%) or “not at all” (16%) important personally.
  • About half of Americans (47%) say they have thought “a lot” (20%) or “some” (27%) about global warming. The other half (53%) say they have thought about global warming just “a little” (37%) or “not at all” (16%).
  • By a three-to-one margin, Americans say that schools should teach children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming (76% agree vs. 24% who disagree).
  • Fewer than four in ten Americans (36%) think the American people can “definitely” or “probably” convince the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to reduce global warming. Only one in four (26%) say it is “definitely” or “probably” not possible.
  • Few Americans are optimistic 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 nearly one in four (23%) say we won’t because people are unwilling to change their behavior. Only 5% say humans can and will successfully reduce global warming.
  • Americans are most likely to think of global warming as an environmental (76%) or scientific (70%) issue. Majorities also say global warming is an agricultural (65%), health (62%), severe weather (61%), economic (60%), and/or political (56%) issue. Fewer consider global warming to be a moral (37%), national security (27%), poverty (25%), social justice (24%), or religious issue (8%).
  • In the months following Pope Francis’s encyclical about climate change and visit to the U.S. in 2015, more Americans said that global warming is a “moral,” “social justice,” or “poverty” issue. Since then, however, these beliefs have returned to their pre-encyclical levels.