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Climate Change in the American Mind: October 2015

Executive Summary

  • Two in three (67%) Americans think global warming is happening. By contrast, only about one in six Americans (16%) thinks global warming is not happening.
  • About half of Americans (53%) think that global warming, if it is happening, is mostly human caused. One in three (33%) say they believe it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
  • Only about one in ten Americans understands that nearly all climate scientists (over 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.
  • Over half of Americans (57%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, but only 16% say they are “very worried.” Worry about global warming has increased 5 points since spring 2015, an increase that is driven mostly by people who now say they are “very worried” (+5 points since the spring).
  • Only about one in three Americans (34%) thinks people in the U.S. are being harmed “right now” by global warming.
  • Since spring 2015, however, the number of Americans who think climate change will cause harm has increased substantially. More think global warming will harm them personally (42%, +6 percentage points since spring 2015), people in the U.S. (56%, +7 points), people in developing countries (61%, +9 points), and future generations (70%, +7 points).
  • Majorities of Americans say global warming is a major environmental (69%), scientific (62%), or agricultural issue (56%). About half consider it a major health (49%) or economic issue (47%). Fewer consider it to be a major moral (24%), poverty (17%), social justice (17%), national security (14%), spiritual (8%), or religious issue (7%).
  • Few Americans (4%) say they have changed their opinion about global warming in the past year, while most—85 percent—say they have not.
  • The number of Americans who say they discuss global warming with family and friends at least occasionally increased by 9 percentage points over the past six months, from 26% in spring 2015 to 35% in fall.
  • About four in ten Americans (42%, -7 percentage points since fall 2012) think “humans could reduce global warming, but it’s unclear at this point whether we will do what is necessary.” This decline signals a growing pessimism that people will successfully address climate change. For example, whereas only 4% say humans can and will successfully reduce global warming, about one in four (26%) says we won’t because people are unwilling to change their behavior, and about one in five (18%, +6 points since spring 2015) says humans can’t reduce global warming even if it is happening.
  • At least two in three Americans say corporations and industry (72%), citizens themselves (67%), and the United States (64%) should be doing “much more” or “more” to address global warming. Moreover, many also think the U.S. Congress (59%) and/or President Obama (49%) should be doing more.
  • In a separate studyMaibach, E., Leiserowitz, A., Roser-Renouf, C., Myers, T., Rosenthal, S. & Feinberg, G. (2015) The Francis Effect: How Pope Francis Changed the Conversation about Global Warming. George Mason University and Yale University. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication conducted concurrently with the survey detailed in this report, we found that many Americans’ views of global warming, especially Catholic Americans, have recently been influenced by Pope Francis’s teachings about global warming. In this survey we found many of the same results. We call this “The Francis Effect.”
  • For example, Catholics were especially likely to say: “I trust Pope Francis as an information source on global warming” (77% of Catholics versus 56% of non-Catholics); “The Pope’s position on global warming had an influence on my own views about global warming” (20% versus 5%, respectively); and “The Pope’s position on global warming has made me more concerned about global warming” (19% versus 5%).