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Climate Change in the American Mind, September 2021

Executive Summary

Drawing on a nationally representative survey (n = 1,006), this report describes Americans’ beliefs and attitudes about global warming. The survey was fielded from September 10 – 20, 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.

The numbers in the Executive Summary that are noted with an asterisk (*) are at an all-time highs since our surveys began in 2008 or since they were first asked (see data tables for details). Among the key findings of this report:


Global Warming Beliefs

  • Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not happening by a ratio of more than 6 to 1 (76%* versus 12%). Those who are “very” or “extremely” sure global warming is happening outnumber those who are “very” or “extremely” sure it is not by about 8 to 1 (57%* versus 7%).
  • Six in ten Americans (60%) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. About one in four (27%) think it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
  • A majority of Americans (59%*) understand that most scientists think global warming is happening. However, only about one in four (24%*) 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).


Emotional Responses to Global Warming

  • Seven in ten Americans (70%*) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. One in three (35%*) say they are “very worried.”
  • About two in three Americans (66%) say they feel “interested” when thinking about global warming. More than half (54%) say they feel “disgusted.” Four in ten or more say they feel “angry” (47%), outraged (45%), or hopeful (42%).


Perceived Risks of Global Warming

  • More than half of Americans (55%*) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now,” and about half (52%*) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming.
  • Half of Americans (50%*) think they will be harmed by global warming, and more than half think their family (55%) and people in their community (57%) will be harmed. Even larger majorities think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (68%*), the world’s poor (70%), people in developing countries (71%), future generations of people (74%), and plant and animal species (76%*).


Personal and Social Engagement with Global Warming

  • About six in ten Americans (61%) say they “rarely” or “never” discuss global warming with family and friends, while one in four (39%) say they do so “occasionally” or “often.”
  • More than half of Americans (57%*) say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month. Fewer (24%) say they hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month.
  • About seven in ten Americans (71%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” important to them personally, while one in three (29%) 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: 43% think it is at least “moderately” important to their family and friends that they take action (an injunctive norm). Fewer (38%) say their family and friends make at least “a moderate amount of effort” to reduce global warming (a descriptive norm).
  • About seven in ten Americans (69%*) feel a personal sense of responsibility to help reduce global warming.


Efficacy Beliefs

  • Two in three Americans (67%) disagree with the statement “it’s already too late to do anything about global warming,” while only 12% agree.
  • About six in ten Americans (61%) disagree with the statement “the actions of a single individual won’t make any difference in global warming,” while about four in ten (39%) agree.
  • Americans are split about whether they think “new technologies can solve global warming without individuals having to make big changes to their lives” (48% agree; 52% disagree).


Impacts of Global Warming

  • Seven in ten Americans (70%*) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, including 43%* who think weather is being affected “a lot.”
  • Large majorities of Americans think global warming is affecting many environmental hazards in the United States including extreme heat (77%), wildfires (76%), droughts (75%), air pollution (74%), rising sea levels (73%), flooding (73%), hurricanes (72%), and water shortages (72%). More than six in ten think global warming is affecting reduced snowpack (69%), tornadoes (68%), agricultural pests and diseases (67%), water pollution (66%), and electricity power outages (66%).
  • About seven in ten Americans (71%*) agree either “strongly” (38%*) or “somewhat” (33%) that wildfires have increased around the world as a result of global warming.
  • A majority of Americans (64%*) think extreme weather poses either a “high” (20%*) or “moderate” (43%*) 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 air pollution (76%*), extreme heat (76%*), electricity power outages (75%), water pollution (73%), droughts (68%*), agricultural pests and diseases (66%*), water shortages (64%*), flooding (62%*), tornados (58%*), and wildfires (52%*).


How Americans Conceptualize Global Warming

  • Majorities of Americans think global warming is an environmental issue (79%), a scientific issue (74%), a severe weather issue (69%*), an agricultural issue (66%), an economic issue (66%*), a health issue (64%*), a political issue (60%), and/or a humanitarian issue (60%).