Yale’s latest ‘Climate Change in the American Mind’ report reveals respondents’ feelings about climate change and the role of business and government in driving meaningful action — beginning with a transition to clean energy.
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication releases semiannual surveys gauging registered US voters’ positions on climate change. Its two most recent Climate Change in the American Mind reports reveal the beliefs and policy alignment of thousands of people from across the political spectrum on climate change and a variety of domestic climate and energy policies.
The latest report, released in December, reveals that the vast majority (70 percent) of people in the US now believe climate change is happening.
“There is relatively little outright climate change denial in America anymore,” says Dr. Edward Maibach, a professor at George Mason University and Director of the school’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Maibach also co-directs the Climate Change in the American Mind survey project with Yale. “Only about 1 in 10 people in the US reject the reality of climate change.”
In almost all other measurements — from understanding of scientific consensus to concerns over its impacts — a majority of those polled acknowledge the reality of climate change. And just as importantly, they recognize that humans are causing it: Those who are sure climate change is happening outnumber those who are sure it’s not 5 to 1; and well over half of people polled in the US understand that climate change is mostly human-caused.
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The proof is in the pudding; and the last several years have provided ample amounts of pudding in the form of extreme, often deadly, weather events. The past eight consecutive years have been the hottest on record; and last year, the US saw record-breaking, simultaneous, climate-related natural disasters across the country — from wildfires and droughts in the west to hurricanes and unseasonal tornadoes in the east.
For two in three US residents polled, climate change is “extremely,” “very” or “somewhat” important to them personally. About half of all respondents feel the effects of a changing climate in real time, and 63 percent feel a personal sense of responsibility to do something about it.
The beliefs surrounding climate change are translating into support for pro-climate policy (particularly renewable energy) — support that even crosses political lines.
Most people in the US want to accelerate the transition to clean energy. For example, nearly two-thirds of US voters think developing clean energy should be a high or very high government priority. Three-quarters or more want the federal government to make it easier for people and businesses to buy solar panels and electric vehicles, purchase electric appliances such as heat pumps and induction stoves, and make low-income homes and apartments more energy efficient.
There’s bipartisan support for other notable policies:
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
Two-thirds support the transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
64 percent want fossil fuel companies to pay a tax on carbon emitted from their products.
62 percent support clean energy standards requiring utilities to produce 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
Over half would support the President in declaring a climate crisis if Congress doesn’t act.
“This shows there is strong agreement across the political spectrum that a clean-energy future is a better future,” Maibach says. “Nearly all Democrats support a range of policies that will accelerate America’s transition to a clean energy economy, but so too do most moderate Republicans and many conservative Republicans,” Maibach says. “Members of Congress, state legislators and local government representatives from both parties would be wise to pay more attention to their voters’ view that America should pivot more quickly to clean energy.”
People in the US have become much more concerned about climate change over the past decade. Nearly two in three say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, and more than one in four are “very worried.” Democrats, young people and Latinx people are most likely to be worried. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) think people in the United States are being harmed by climate change “right now” and say they have personally experienced the effects of it (47 percent).
For Maibach, this represents a critical mass and sea change in climate communication strategy.
“The most impactful steps to take now are less about convincing the public and business owners about the value of clean energy, and more about making it easier for families and businesses to switch to clean energy and appliances and vehicles that run on clean energy.”
For Maibach, there’s potential to enact meaningful climate work without implicitly naming climate. Even folks who dismiss the reality of climate change support renewable energy and electrification, which happens to be key in addressing the climate crisis.
Still, a significant number of people and organizations have pivoted their strategy from climate denial to obfuscation in order to protect the status quo and stymie climate action.
“Some companies and politicians that used to traffic in climate change denial have updated their approach,” Maibach said. “Rather than deny climate change, they are now trying to delay the implementation of solutions.”
Brands and businesses would do well to use the growth of climate concern in the minds of their US customers as a point of engagement. Maibach recommends that companies capitalize on the momentum and start producing or buying clean energy, reducing their energy waste and helping their customers do the same. Doing so now will cement their brand leadership and loyalty in a movement that is not likely to die down, especially considering that two-thirds of US voters polled say corporations and industry should do more to address climate change.
“There are so many good reasons for [corporations] to take these actions — including cleaner air and water, healthier employees and customers, reducing waste, and improved financial performance,” Maibach said. “Many governments across the US and worldwide, and most companies, are already beginning to address climate change in meaningful ways. To limit climate change and prevent needless harm, however, much more action is necessary.”