The Big Picture
Most Americans believe that scientists disagree about climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Rosenthal, 2015). In reality, the overwhelming majority of scientists are on the same page about climate change.
People who believe that scientists disagree about climate change are less likely to support action to stop climate change (Ding, Maibach, Zhao, Roser-Renouf, & Leiserowitz, 2011).
Americans tend to underestimate the gravity of climate change.
Climate change is, without a doubt, hurting Americans right now. In 2014, the United States endured eight extreme weather events with losses of more than $1 billion (NOAA, 2015). And yet, Americans are more worried about terrorism, drug use and immigration than climate change (Riffkin, 2014).
Most Americans recognize that dealing with climate change would
- Improve public health
- Protect our children and grandchildren
- Create green jobs and improve the economy
- Reduce our dependence on foreign oil
However, most Americans fail to recognize that dealing with climate change would
- Prevent starvation and poverty
- Improve national security (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Howe, 2013)
Americans see more regulation and higher energy prices as the most likely drawbacks of taking action on climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, Feinberg, & Howe, 2013).
Americans support clean energy, but they are less likely to support specific policies designed to nurture the growth of clean energy.
Americans are reluctant to take action on climate change.
Most Americans say friends and family are most capable of persuading them to take action on climate change. Americans are most willing to sign a petition or attend a public meeting about climate change if they are asked by a person they like and respect (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Feinberg, 2013).
The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication Identifies “Six Americas” (Roser-Renouf, Maibach, Leiserowitz, & Rosenthal, 2016), six distinct subsets of Americans with six distinct views on climate change.
The Alarmed (17 percent of Americans) are certain climate change is happening. They strongly support action to reduce the threat, and they may act as opinion leaders.
The Concerned (28 percent of Americans) see climate change as a more distant problem, affecting far off places at many years from now. Like the “Alarmed,” they support action to reduce the threat.
The Cautious (27 percent of Americans) accept climate change is happening, but they question its causes. Members of this group may believe that global warming is the result of natural (as opposed to human) causes.
The Disengaged (7 percent of Americans) have given little thought to climate change. Members of this group tend to possess the lowest level of education.
The Doubtful (11 percent of Americans) question the existence of climate change. They believe that if climate change is happening, it is not the result of human action.
The Dismissive (10 percent of Americans) believe climate change is a conspiracy or hoax.
Together, the Doubtful and the Dismissive make up the naysayers, the one fifth of Americans who actively doubt human-caused climate change. Learn more about the naysayers in Why Don't We Care More?