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Climate Change in the American Mind, March 2021

Executive Summary

Drawing on a nationally representative survey (n = 1,037), this report describes Americans’ beliefs and attitudes about global warming. The survey was fielded from March 18 – 29, 2021. This report builds on two previous reports based on data from this same survey that focused on public support for U.S. domestic climate policy and public support for international climate action. Among the key findings of this report:

  • Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not happening by a ratio of more than 4 to 1 (70% versus 15%). Those who are “very” or “extremely” sure global warming is happening outnumber those who are “very” or “extremely” sure it is not by more than 5 to 1 (50% versus 9%).
  • More than half of Americans (57%) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. Three in ten (30%) think it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
  • More than half of Americans (57%) understand that most scientists think global warming is happening. However, only about one in five (22%) understand how strong the level of consensus among scientists is (i.e., that more than 90% of climate scientists think human-caused global warming is happening).
  • A majority of Americans (64%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. One in four (25%) are “very worried.”
  • More than four in ten Americans think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now” (45%), and about four in ten say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming (42%).
  • More than four in ten Americans (45%) think they will be harmed by global warming, and nearly half think their family (48%) will be harmed. Half or more Americans think global warming will harm people in their community (50%), people in the U.S. (63%), people in developing countries (68%), the world’s poor (68%), future generations of people (71%), and plant and animal species (71%).
  • Two in three Americans (67%) say they “rarely” or “never” discuss global warming with family and friends, while one in three (33%) say they do so “occasionally” or “often.”
  • Nearly half of Americans (48%) say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month. Fewer (20%) say they hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month.
  • Two in three Americans (67%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” important to them personally, while one in three (33%) say it is either “not too” or “not at all” personally important.
  • Fewer than half of Americans think their friends and family expect them to take action, or take action themselves, on global warming: 42% think it is at least “moderately” important to their family and friends that they take action (an injunctive norm). Fewer (36%) say their family and friends make at least “a moderate amount of effort” to reduce global warming (a descriptive norm).
  • About two in three Americans (65%) feel a personal sense of responsibility to help reduce global warming.
  • Few Americans (12%) agree with the statement “it’s already too late to do anything about global warming,” while about six in ten (63%) disagree.
  • Six in ten Americans (60%) disagree with the statement “the actions of a single individual won’t make any difference in global warming,” while four in ten (40%) agree.
  • A majority of Americans (54%) disagree with the statement “new technologies can solve global warming without individuals having to make big changes to their lives.”
  • About six in ten Americans (61%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States; three in ten think it is being affected “a lot” (31%).
  • About two in three Americans (65%) either “strongly” (29%) or “somewhat” (36%) agree that wildfires have increased around the world as a result of global warming.
  • A majority of Americans (55%) think extreme weather poses either a “high” (14%) or “moderate” (41%) risk to their community over the next 10 years.
  • A majority of Americans are worried about harm from a range of environmental hazards in their local area including water pollution (73%), air pollution (72%), extreme heat (68%), agricultural pests and diseases (65%), droughts (61%), water shortages (56%), flooding (56%), and tornados (53%).