Climate Change in the American Mind: March, 2016

Key Findings

  • Seven in ten Americans (70%) think global warming is happening. By contrast, only about one in ten Americans (11%) think global warming is not happening. The percentage of Americans who think global warming is happening has been steadily rising since March, 2015, and nearly matches its highest level (71%) since our surveys began in November, 2008.
  • About half of Americans (53%) think that global warming, if it is happening, is mostly human caused. By contrast, one in three (34%) believe it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
  • Only about one in ten Americans (11%) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.
  • Over half of Americans (58%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, but only 16% say they are “very worried.” Worry about global warming has increased 6 points since spring 2015, an increase that is driven mostly by people who now say they are “very worried” (+5 points since spring 2015).
  • When asked how strongly they feel a number of emotions when they think about global warming, over half of Americans (67%) say they feel very or moderately “interested” in it, followed by about half who say they feel “helpless” (49%), “disgusted” (48%) and/or “hopeful” (48%). Large minorities also feel very or moderately “afraid” (42%), “angry” (41%), and/or “outraged” (41%).
  • Only about four in ten Americans (38%) think people in the U.S. are being harmed “right now” by global warming. However, this number has risen by 6 percentage points since spring 2015 and is higher now than at any other time the question has been asked (starting in 2008).
  • Also since spring 2015, the number of Americans who think global warming will cause harm has increased substantially. More think it will cause a “great deal” or “moderate amount” of harm to people in developing countries (63%, +10 points), people in the U.S. (59%, +10 points), future generations (70%, +7 points), and to them personally (41%, +5 points).
  • Thirty-one percent of Americans say they discuss global warming with family and friends at least occasionally, while most say they rarely or never discuss it (69%).
  • About one in five Americans say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a week (22%), and another one in five say they hear about it at least once a month (22%). About one in six (15%) say they hear about global warming in the media no more often than once a year, if ever.
  • Most Americans (68%) say they hear people they know talking about global warming no more often than several times a year if ever.
  • At least two in three Americans say corporations and industry (71%), and citizens themselves (66%) should be doing “much more” or “more” to address global warming. Half or more also think the U.S. Congress (60%), their member of Congress (57%), their governor (55%), their local government officials (55%), and President Obama (49%) should be doing more.
  • Six in ten Americans (61%) say the U.S. should reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what other countries do. Only 6% of Americans say the U.S. should not reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
  • By a three-to-one margin, Americans support (76%) rather than oppose (23%) teaching our children about global warming in schools.
  • Fewer than four in ten Americans (37%) think the American people can convince the U.S. Congress to pass legislation needed to reduce global warming. One in four (25%) think it is not possible.
  • About half of Americans say it is “probably” or “definitely” possible to prevent catastrophic harm due to global warming to future generations (51%), plant and animal species (50%), people in the U.S. (49%), and the stability of the Earth’s climate (46%). However, fewer than half think it is possible to save people in poor countries from catastrophic harm (40%).
  • Majorities of Americans say global warming is a major environmental (68%), scientific (59%), agricultural (55%), or severe weather issue (54%). Nearly half consider it a major health (45%) or economic issue (44%). Fewer currently consider it to be a major moral (24%), national security (18%), poverty (17%), social justice (16%), or religious issue (7%).