Americans Divided on Government’s Effectiveness on Climate Change, but Agree on Certain Policies, Survey Finds

Climate activists march to the White House in 2021
Climate activists march to the White House to demand that President Joe Biden work to make the Green New Deal into law on June 28, 2021. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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According to a new Pew Research Center survey of 10,282 U.S. adults conducted from May 2 to 8, Americans are deeply divided on how well they think the federal government is doing when it comes to tackling climate change and environmental issues.

Overall, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. said Biden’s policies on climate change were moving the country in the right direction, according to the Pew Research Center.

However, the responses were generally split along party lines, with 82 percent of Republicans or those leaning GOP saying that the Biden administration’s climate policies were taking America in the wrong direction, while 79 percent of Democrats and those leaning Democratic liked the direction the president was taking the country on climate policy.

Eighty-two percent of Democrats also felt that the government could be doing more to lessen the effects of climate change.

“You get the sense from the data that there is frustration or disappointment that more has not been done,” said director of science and society research at Pew Research Center Cary Funk, as Inside Climate News reported.

The survey did show wide bipartisan agreement on certain issues. Ninety percent of Americans expressed their support of planting roughly a trillion trees to soak up carbon emissions and help reduce climate change effects, while 79 percent were for a tax credit to help with technological development for carbon capture and storage of carbon emissions for businesses.

Seventy-two percent were in favor of power companies being required to utilize more renewable energy, like solar and wind, while 68 percent supported taxes based on the amount of corporations’ carbon emissions.

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed opposed the phasing out of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, with 43 percent in support. This issue was also divided along party lines, with 82 percent of Republicans opposed and 65 percent of Democrats supporting the issue.

As far as actually purchasing an electric vehicle (EV), 42 percent said they were “very or somewhat likely” to consider it seriously.

“Roughly seven-in-ten of those at least somewhat likely to consider an EV in the future cite saving money on gas as well as helping the environment as reasons why,” the Pew Research Center reported.

A majority of Americans, 53 percent, said more stringent environmental laws were worth the cost, as compared to 45 percent who said the laws damaged the economy and resulted in the loss of too many jobs.

Age was also a factor. Younger Democrats were more likely to indicate frustration with the Biden administration’s approach to climate change.

Black and Hispanic, as well as lower-income adults, were more likely to have environmental issues like landfills and water pollution in their communities. Air pollution was reported to be a “big or moderate problem” in the local communities of 61 percent of lower-income adults, compared to 45 percent of middle-income adults and 38 percent of those with higher income.

About 56 percent of Black and Hispanic Americans said pollution of rivers, lakes and streams in their community was a “big or moderate problem.”

The partisan division was evident regarding power companies being required to get more of their energy from renewable sources, with 90 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans in favor.

Most Americans felt the federal government wasn’t doing enough to protect the water quality of lakes, streams and rivers at 63 percent. A majority of those surveyed also felt not enough was being done to protect the lives and habitats of animals or to protect air quality.

As far as the protection of nature preserves, open lands and national parks, 47 percent said the government wasn’t doing enough, while 44 percent felt about the right amount was being done.

Extreme weather was reported as having been experienced by most Americans in the past year, with 42 percent saying their community had seen long periods of abnormally hot weather and 43 percent saying they had experienced intense storms or floods.

In the West, 68 percent of respondents said their community had dealt with water shortages or droughts and 59 percent said they had faced major wildfires. In the Midwest, Northeast and the South, intense storms and floods were more likely to be reported in the past year than in the West.

“Roughly half of U.S. adults (49%) say air pollution is at least a moderately big problem in their communities. Fewer say that access to safe drinking water (41%) and lack of green space (37%) in their communities are problems,” reported Pew Research Center.

These environmental problems were more likely to be reported in Black and Hispanic communities than in White communities.

“For example, 63% of Black Americans and 57% of Hispanic Americans say safety of drinking water is at least a moderate problem in their local community, compared with only 33% of non-Hispanic White Americans. There are significant gaps by race and ethnicity when it comes to other environmental problems, including air pollution,” Pew reported.

Income divides were also reported when it came to being directly exposed to environmental issues.

“[A] majority of lower-income Americans (58%) say the safety of drinking water is at least a moderate problem in their local community, compared with 37% of those in middle-income and 25% of those in upper-income families. Lower-income communities are among those at the greatest risk for unsafe drinking water,” reported Pew.

Air pollution was reported as much more of an issue in urban areas than rural ones, with 64 percent of those in urban areas saying it was “a big or moderate problem,” while 47 percent of suburban residents and 38 percent of rural residents reported it as affecting their communities.

According to scientists, global emissions must be cut in half by the end of the decade in order to avoid the most disastrous effects of global warming. But this likely depends on immediate action by the U.S. government.

The Biden administration’s consideration of a West Virginia gas pipeline and drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico in exchange for the support of Biden’s stalled climate bill by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has frustrated climate activists, The Guardian reported.

“Locking in decades of deadly, planet-heating fossil fuels is an outrageous trade that negates the benefits of an ever-weaker climate bill,” said government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity Brett Hartl, as reported by The Guardian.

As more and more people face extreme temperatures, water shortages and hazy skies filled with wildfire smoke, the reality of climate change becomes more evident.

“The public is frustrated that we’re seeing the impacts of climate change every day in our lives. World treasures like the Giant Sequoias are being threatened by wildfire in ways they haven’t been threatened in two or three thousand years… The public are recognizing that climate change is an existential threat,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy for the American Lung Association, as Inside Climate News reported.

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