The Big Picture
A little more than half of Americans believe that scientists agree about climate change (Leiserowitz et al., 2018). Studies show that the overwhelming majority of climate 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 are broadly worried about climate change, but many see it as a future threat.
Climate change is, without a doubt, hurting Americans right now. In 2018, the United States endured 14 extreme weather events with losses of more than $1 billion (NOAA, 2019). One in four Americans say the government should address on climate change. There is more public support for addressing climate change than for every other issue except health care and immigration (AP-NORC, 2018).
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, Americans largely 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 Six Americas
The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication Identifies “Six Americas” (Gustafson, Leiserowitz, & Maibach, 2019), six distinct subsets of Americans with six distinct views on climate change.
The Alarmed (29 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 (30 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 (17 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 (5 percent of Americans) have given little thought to climate change. Members of this group tend to possess the lowest level of education.
The Doubtful (9 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 (9 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?
Race and Gender
Women are more likely than men to feel concerned about climate change (Ballew, Marlon, Leiserowitz, & Maibach, 2018). Climate deniers tend to be white and male (Leiserowitz, 2005). Contributing to this gender dynamic is the fact that eco-friendly behaviors are seen as feminine (Brough, Wilkie, Ma, Isaac, & Gal, 2016).
People of color are considerably more likely to worry about climate change than white Americans. They are also more likely to say they are personally affected by the issue (EcoAmerica, 2018). Latinos, in particular, are very worried about climate change, especially Latinos whose primary language is Spanish (Leiserowitz, Rosenthal, & Cutler, 2018).
Americans of every race and ethnicity underestimate how much people of color worry about climate change. While people of color—Latinos, in particular—are more concerned about climate change than other groups, Americans see environmentalism as the purview of college-educated whites (Pearson, Schuldt, Romero-Canyas, Ballew, & Larson-Konar, 2018).