Hurricane Harvey flooding. Jill Carlson / Flickr

Record Number of Americans 'Very Worried' About Climate Change

As someone who writes about the environment on a near-daily basis, the fact that a large chunk of Americans (about one in eight) reject the near scientific consensus of climate change can be a tough pill to swallow.

But after a year of record-breaking heatwaves, massive wildfires in the west, and a string of destructive hurricanes, it appears that my fellow U.S. citizens are waking up to the realities of our hot, new world, according to the latest nationally representative survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

The poll, which has tracked Americans' attitudes about climate since 2008, revealed an uptick in Americans' concern about climate change, including "substantial increases" in the certainty that the global phenomenon is happening and currently harming people in the U.S.

The survey, based on the replies of 1,304 adults between Oct. 20 to Nov. 1, showed that seven in ten participants think climate change is happening—an increase of eight percentage points since March 2015. The good news is that those who think global warming is real outnumber climate deniers by more than 5 to 1.

One of the most significant findings is that roughly one in five (22 percent) Americans are "very worried" about climate change—the highest levels since the surveys began, or about twice the number that said they were "very worried" from the March 2015 poll.

Four out of ten Americans also said that they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, and the issue is also personally important for two out of three Americans.

"That's probably because they perceive direct climate impacts," as environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli pointed out in the Guardian, citing how 64 percent of survey participants said that global warming is affecting the weather.

"Americans also connecting the dots to specific extreme weather events," he pointed out.

Indeed, scientists have noted that extreme weather can be made all the more frequent and destructive due to climate change.

Here are the key findings from the survey:

• Seven in ten Americans (71 percent) think global warming is happening, an increase of eight percentage points since March 2015. Only about one in eight Americans (13 percent) think global warming is not happening. Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by more than five to one. 

• Americans are also becoming certain global warming is happening—47 percent are "extremely" or "very" sure it is happening, an increase of 10 percentage points since March 2015. By contrast, far fewer—seven percent—are "extremely" or "very sure" global warming is not happening.

• Over half of Americans (54 percent) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. By contrast, one in three (33 percent) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.

• Only about one in seven Americans (15 percent) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90 percent) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.

• More than six in ten Americans (63 percent) say they are at least "somewhat worried" about global warming. About one in five (22 percent) are "very worried" about it—the highest levels since our surveys began, and twice the proportion that were "very worried" in March 2015.

• Two in three Americans feel "interested" in global warming (67 percent), and more than half feel "disgusted" (55 percent) or "helpless" (52 percent). Fewer than half feel "hopeful" (44 percent).

• Nearly two in three Americans (64 percent) think global warming is affecting weather in the U.S., and one in three think weather is being affected "a lot" (33 percent), an increase of eight percentage points since May 2017.

• A majority of Americans think global warming made several extreme events in 2017 worse, including the heat waves in California (55 percent) and Arizona (51 percent), hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria (54 percent), and wildfires in the western U.S. (52 percent).

• More than three in four Americans (78 percent) are interested in learning about how global warming is or is not affecting extreme weather events.

• More than four in ten Americans (44 percent) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, an increase of 13 percentage points since March 2015.

• Four in ten Americans (42 percent) think people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming "right now." The proportion that believes people are being harmed "right now" has increased by 10 percentage points since March 2015.

• Half of Americans think they (50 percent) or their family (54 percent) will be harmed by global warming. Even more think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (67 percent), the world's poor or people in developing countries (both 71 percent), future generations of people (75 percent) or plant and animal species (75 percent).

• Most Americans think global warming will have future impacts, causing more melting glaciers (67 percent), severe heat waves (64 percent), droughts and water shortages (63 percent), floods (61 percent), and other impacts over the next 20 years.

• Two in three Americans (67 percent) say the issue of global warming is either "extremely" (12 percent), "very" (19 percent), or "somewhat" (37 percent) important to them personally, while one in three (33 percent) say it is either "not too" (19 percent) or "not at all" (14 percent) important personally. The proportion that say it is personally important has increased by 11 percentage points since March 2015.

• Nearly four in ten Americans (38 percent) say they discuss global warming with family and friends "often" or "occasionally," an increase of 12 percentage points since March 2015. However, more say they "rarely" or "never" discuss it (62 percent). Additionally, half of Americans (51 percent) say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month, and one in four (25 percent) say they hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month.

• More than half of Americans (54 percent) say they have thought "a lot" (22 percent) or "some" (32 percent) about global warming. Fewer say they have thought about global warming just "a little" (32 percent) or "not at all" (14 percent).

• Few Americans are confident that humans will reduce global warming. Nearly half (48 percent) say humans could reduce global warming, but it's unclear at this point whether we will do what is necessary, and one in four (25 percent) say we won't reduce global warming because people are unwilling to change their behavior. Only five percent say humans can and will successfully reduce global warming.

• Large majorities of Americans think of global warming as an environmental (78 percent), scientific (71 percent), agricultural (66 percent), severe weather (65 percent), health (62 percent), economic (60 percent), or political issue (60 percent). Fewer think it is a moral (41 percent), national security (29 percent), poverty (28 percent), social justice (26 percent), or religious issue (nine percent).

Show Comments ()
Katharine Hayhoe talks climate communication hacks at the Natural Products Expo West Convention. Climate Collaborative

Katharine Hayhoe Reveals Surprising Ways to Talk About Climate Change

By Katie O'Reilly

Katharine Hayhoe isn't your typical atmospheric scientist. Throughout her career, the evangelical Christian and daughter of missionaries has had to convince many (including her pastor husband) that science and religion need not be at odds when it comes to climate change. Hayhoe, who directs Texas Tech's University's Climate Science Center, is CEO of ATMOS Research, a scientific consulting company, and produces the PBS Kids' web series Global Weirding, rose to national prominence in early 2012 after then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dropped her chapter from a book he was editing about the environment. The reason? Hayhoe's arguments affirmed that climate change was no liberal hoax. The Toronto native attracted the fury of Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to harass her.

Keep reading... Show less
Rising Tide NA / Twitter

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest Grows: Arrests Include a Greenpeace Founder, Juno-Nominated Grandfather

By Andy Rowell

Just because you get older, it doesn't mean you cannot stop taking action for what you believe in. And Monday was a case in point. Two seventy-year-olds, still putting their bodies on the line for environmental justice and indigenous rights.

Early Monday morning, the first seventy-year-old, a grandfather of two, and former nominee for Canada's Juno musical award, slipped into Kinder Morgan's compound at one of its sites for the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline and scaled a tree and then erected a mid-air platform with a hammock up in the air.

Keep reading... Show less

The Grapes of Trash

By Marlene Cimons

German monk and theologian Martin Luther probably said it best: "Beer is made by men, wine by God." It's true—the world loves its wine. Americans, in fact, downed close to a billion gallons of it in 2016. But winemakers create a lot of waste when they produce all that vino, most of it in seeds, stalks and skins.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Mike Pompeo Could Be Even Worse for the Environment Than Rex Tillerson

By Kelle Louaillier

As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was one of the most blatant revolving-door cases in the Trump administration and a clear sign that Trump's government was of, by and for the fossil fuel industry. But make no mistake: Mike Pompeo could be far worse.

Keep reading... Show less
Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino. Ol Pejeta Conservancy

World's Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies

The world's last male northern white rhino has died, leaving only two females left to save the subspecies from extinction, the wildlife conservancy taking care of him announced Tuesday.

The 45-year-old rhinoceros, named Sudan, was euthanized Monday at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Keep reading... Show less

First Study on Climate Change and Internal Migration: World Bank Finds 140 Million Could Be Displaced by 2050

Much of the discussion around climate refugees has focused on movement between countries, with the Syrian refugee crisis serving as a chilling preview of the global exodus to come.

But a new report released by the World Bank on Monday honed in on the problem of internal displacement, finding that as many as 140 million people in three densely-populated, developing regions might be forced by climate change to migrate within their countries' borders by 2050. It is the first report to focus on the impact of climate change on intra-country migration specifically, The Guardian reported.

Keep reading... Show less

Fire Seasons Have Become Longer Globally, Experts Say

Experts say that climate change is lengthening global fire seasons, as the southern hemisphere experiences "freak autumn heat" and major weekend bushfires devastate the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales.

"March is not traditionally seen as a time when the bushfire danger escalates, but as the fires in Tartha NSW, and south west Victoria show, bushfires do not respect summer boundaries," said Richard Thornton, the CEO of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

A Tale of Two Cities: How San Francisco and Burlington Are Shaping America's Low-Carbon Future

By Kyra Appleby

President Trump's commitment to pull out of the Paris agreement signaled what appeared to be the worst of times for a transition to a low-carbon future in the United States. But actions being taken by a significant number of cities could instead make it the best of times for renewable energy in America.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!