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Climate Change in the American Mind: December 2020

7. How Americans Conceptualize Global Warming

7.1 Americans are most likely to think of global warming as an environmental and/or scientific issue.

Global warming is a complex challenge with many dimensions. Understanding how people conceptualize the issue is critical to formulating effective communication strategies.

A large majority of Americans think global warming is an environmental issue (80%) and a scientific issue (73%). More than half think global warming is an agricultural (68%), severe weather (66%), economic (66%), health (62%), or political (61%) issue, and more than half think it is a humanitarian (58%) issue.

Fewer think global warming is a moral (47%), national security (35%), poverty (34%), social justice (33%), and/or religious (10%) issue.

Over the past five years (since October 2015) the proportion of Americans who consider global warming a national security issue has increased by 12 percentage points (see Data Tables). Among the other items that were asked in both the current survey and in October 2015, the proportion of Americans who view global warming as a poverty issue (+9 percentage points), moral issue (+6 points), or social justice (fairness) issue (+6 points) issue has also increased.