Why Aren’t People More Concerned About Climate Change?
2014 was the warmest year on record, and the northeastern states of the U.S. are experiencing an extremely severe winter. Yet according to a new Gallup poll, the number of Americans who say they worry about climate change a “great deal” or a “fair amount” has remained unchanged over the last year. What’s the reason for this disconnect? It may be that people have a hard time making the link between extreme winters and a warming planet. Or it may be that climate change still seems to be a distant threat.
Other recent polls tell a somewhat different story. A Reuters poll found that 66 percent of Americans feel world leaders are morally obligated to address climate change. A poll from Hart Research Associates found that 60 percent of voters strongly support setting limits on carbon emissions from power plants. And a survey by Harvard political scientist Stephen Ansolabehere found a wide majority of Americans prefer renewable energy sources to fossil fuels.
So it seems that climate awareness and support for action may be increasing, but what still seems to be missing is a true sense of urgency. Climate communicators can help make the threat of climate change more immediate and personal by focusing on local-scale impacts that are already occurring, as well as impacts on mental and physical health. But we’ve found it’s more effective to lead with solutions rather than the problem. People are more likely to take risks seriously if they understand how the problem can be successfully addressed – and if people understand the health and economic benefits of solutions like clean energy, they’re more likely to be supportive, no matter their opinions about climate change.
By Lydia Saad
Although climate scientists have been in the news describing this winter as a strong signal that global warming is producing more extreme weather, Americans are no more likely today (55%) than in the past two years to believe the effects of global warming are occurring.
The 2014-2015 winter season brought record warm temperatures to the Western U.S. while it delivered record cold to much of the rest of the country and record snowfall in the East. However, this winter has neither created an uptick in new believers that the effects of global warming are manifest nor reduced the ranks of skeptics. A third of Americans believe the effects of global warming will either never happen (16%) or not happen in their lifetime (17%), about the same as in March 2014.
Similarly, as Gallup reported previously, Americans’ levels of concern about a number of environmental issues are no higher today than last March, including concerns about global warming. Just over half of Americans, 55%, currently say they worry a “great deal” (32%) or “fair amount” (23%) about the issue, roughly the same as last year and similar to the average over the past six years. Public worry about global warming was higher from 2006 to 2009, and higher still in 1999 and 2000.