Climate

Americans’ Concern About Climate Change Is Growing

CREDIT: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo, Texas.

If you are concerned about global warming, you are part of a growing majority that hadn’t been this large since 2008, a new Gallup poll has found.

In fact, 64 percent of adults say they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming, up from 55 percent at this time last year. According to the poll, concerns about global warming have increased among all party groups since 2015, though concerns remain much higher among Democrats than Republicans and Independents.

In March, 40 percent of Republicans said they worry a great deal or fair amount about global warming, up from 31 percent last year. Independents expressing concern increased nine points, from 55 percent to 64 percent. Democrats’ concern is up slightly less — four points — and is now at 84 percent.

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CREDIT: Gallup

“All of these things that Gallup is showing are all things that we expected to see,” Geoff Feinberg, research director for the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, told ThinkProgress. “We didn’t know when it was going to happen, but it looks like it’s happening now.”

Americans’ shift toward belief in global warming follows a winter that most described in the same poll as being unusually warm. Sixty-three percent of Americans said they experienced an unusually warm winter, and most attributed the warm weather pattern to human-caused climate change. Indeed, December to February was the hottest meteorological winter ever recorded. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that this winter was 2.03°F above the 20th century average.

“I think the unseasonably warm winter has a lot to do with this [change], because people were able to experience first-hand global warming,” said Feinberg, adding that all the attention around the Paris agreement also influenced people’s opinion.

And yet the number of Americans concerned about global warming is lower than the most recent peak reached in 2000. At that time, about 72 percent of people reported concerns, according to the poll. However, by 2004 only 51 percent were worried about climate change. That’s not surprising, either. Public opinion is ephemeral and many factors can influence how people respond to polls. Feinberg said the most recent comparable increase in concern, in 2008, happened as publicity of the issue increased, most notably after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006.

After 2008, however, the Gallup poll shows that people worried less about climate change as years passed. Feinberg said the Great Recession is partly to blame. As research suggests, environmental protection and attention is a priority often stemming from affluence.

The idea that economically secure people can worry about the environment more would explain why so many Americans were worried about climate change in 2000. Then, America had a thriving economy, crime was low, welfare dependency and joblessness were down, and the stock market was soaring. Since then, public opinion on climate change has been a bit of a roller coaster, in a way mirroring the economy, although for the past year or so the trend toward interest and concern about human-caused climate change is clear.

And “when people are worried, that means that they see something that [is] a real threat, and when people see a threat they begin to take action or demand action,” Feinberg said.