The Common Good

Report: Public Concern Over Climate Change Is Rising

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has an updated version of its report, Global Warming’s Six Americasout this month. The report, which identifies and explores six major attitudes towards climate change, shows that the number of Americans alarmed about climate change has risen from 10 to 16 percent of the population over the last two years.  

45 percent of Americans are alarmed or concerned about climate change, a survey from Yale finds. Photo courtesy shutterstock.com

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At the same time, those dismissive towards the reality of climate change have decreased in size, from 16 percent in 2010 to 8 percent in 2012.  

The “Six Americas” of the title refers to six predominant postures toward climate change in the United States, grouped by researchers along a spectrum of concern and engagement, from “Alarmed” to “Dismissive.” By focusing on attitude rather than demographics, these groupings represent cohesive yet widely diverse cross-sections of the public.

As a result, the findings consistently show, “knowledge is important but always insufficient” for changing minds about climate change, said Director of YPCCC Anthony Leiserowitz of the findings.  Indeed, the report suggests that demographics-targeted messaging about climate change along age, income, race, or gender lines may be substantially less effective than attitude-keyed messaging.

And these findings are significant. Due in part to what report authors called the “new abnormal” of extreme weather patterns, the survey finds that the “Alarmed,” “Concerned,” and “Cautious” groups now comprise 70 percent of the public — a return to 2008 levels of concern.

In addition, beliefs are nearly unanimous around sources of energy — all Six Americas say the United States should increase renewable energy, and in five of six groups, a large proportion of respondents prefer to reduce fossil fuels (only “Dismissives” prefer to increase use).  

Evangelicals, while not mentioned specifically in the report, are a particularly interesting case, said the report’s authors.

“What comes across loud and clear is that evangelicals [demonstrate] a strong moral duty to care for the less fortunate,” said Geoffrey Feinberg, Research Director of YPCCC, noting that self-identified evangelicals are part of all six groups. “It’s unfair to stereotype Evangelicals as all dismissives. They’re just not. They certainly should be part of the conversation.”

To that point, Leiserowitz noted, on many policy issues “there’s been no effort to engage the public.” The phrase “cap and trade,” for example, was only familiar to 25 percent of the survey sample, and most respondents had little to no comprehension of what the approach entails. These groups “need different engagement strategies to actively construct their theme of these issues. There’s a need for strategies that point to the values that are most specific and relevant to the communities you’re hoping to reach.”

“Don’t leave the field,” he added. “[Climate activists] have got to be there, emphasizing the benefits of engagement.”

Read the full report here.

Catherine Woodiwiss is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners.

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