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Mixed Signals: More Americans Are Taking Climate-Friendly Action, But Fewer Say Those Actions Can Slow Climate Change

A new survey shows that more Americans are taking actions to reduce climate pollution; however, fewer Americans actually believe those actions will do something about climate change.

The survey, conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, shows an increase in the number of people who take alternative transportation or purchase energy efficient light bulbs compared with 2008. However, even while a majority of respondents still said their individual actions could reduce global warming, that number was down 16 points since 2008.

These results also bear out in individual political action. Even though 70% of respondents said that the world is warming, only 12% said they had contacted an elected official about the subject. Here are some of the top findings from the survey:

  • The number of Americans who say they “always” or “often” walk or bike instead of driving is at its highest recorded level (25%) and has risen considerably since March (up 14 points). Americans today are also more likely say they use public transportation or carpool (17%), returning to a level last observed in November 2008 (18%).
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs continue to be adopted by the American consumer, with 57% now reporting that most or all of the light bulbs in their home are CFLs — up from 40% in November 2008.
  • Three Americans in ten (32%) say that in the past 12 months they have given business to a company as a reward for their steps to reduce global warming. Nearly a quarter also say that in the past 12 months they have punished companies for opposing steps to reduce global warming by not purchasing their products (24%).
  • About one in ten (11%) have contacted a government official about global warming by letter, email, or phone, while 15% have volunteered or donated money to an organization working to reduce global warming.
  • Americans who contact a government official about global warming have become much more likely to urge them to take action to reduce it (89%, up 17 percentage points since 2010).
  • No matter what their personal beliefs about global warming, many Americans say they have friends who have different views than their own. In fact, more are likely to have friends who disagree than agree with them about global warming.
  • Since 2008, Americans have become less likely to say a number of actions taken by themselves and others can reduce global warming. Americans have become less confident that their individual actions to save energy will reduce their own contribution to global warming (32%, down 16 points since 2010).

The drop in the number of people who say that they can slow climate change with individual action is not that surprising. Since 2008, destructive extreme weather events have increased substantially and messages from science and energy experts have become much more dire. At the same time, press coverage of climate change — including substantive policy discussions and personal actions people are taking — has dropped precipitously since a peak in 2008/2009.

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