More Americans Than Ever Understand Climate Change Is Real And Harmful

About 3 in 4 survey respondents believe global warming is happening, and more than half agree that we are being harmed by climate change “right now.”

More Americans than ever now understand that global warming is real, harmful and directly impacting their local communities.

In a nationally representative survey of 1,006 American adults conducted by Yale University’s program on climate change communication, about three-quarters of respondents (76%) said they think global warming is happening — up from 57% in 2010. Meanwhile, some 12% said they think global warming is not happening.

More than half (55%) said that people in the U.S. are being harmed by climate change “right now,” according to the survey, which was conducted online from Sept. 10–20. This is up from the 24% who thought so in 2010.

And for the first time since the group began these surveys in 2008, a majority of respondents — 54% — said that they have experienced the effects of global warming personally.

Over the past year, we’ve seen the hottest July ever recorded on the planet (again), the largest ever single wildfire in California history (again, just a year after the last one), and deadly hurricanes and floods devastating the Gulf and Atlantic coasts (again).

“After a brutal year of record heatwaves, fires, floods, and storms... Americans are increasingly convinced global warming is real, human-caused, and dangerous — right here, right now,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale’s climate change communication program.

Yale climate change communication
Yale climate change communication

The United Nations’ recent climate report repeated what similar reports have been saying for years, with even greater certainty: Humans are the “unequivocal” cause of climate change, and the window to avoid catastrophic living conditions worldwide due to global warming is rapidly closing.

However, Yale’s survey found that only 60% of respondents understand that global warming is mostly human-caused — though, encouragingly, this is up from 46% in 2010. By contrast, about one-quarter (27%) said they think global warming is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.

It is worth noting that Americans are deeply politically divided on climate change. About 72% of Democrats say human activity is contributing “a great deal” to climate change, versus just 22% of Republicans, according to Pew Research Center. A vast majority of Democrats say climate change is affecting their local community (83%), while less than half of Republicans say so (37%).

“If you feel safe, if you feel distant, it means you’re not aware of your vulnerabilities.”

- Climate expert Isabel Rivera-Collazo

More Americans than ever are worried about global warming: 70% of those surveyed said they were at least “somewhat worried” and, of those, about one-third (35%) were “very worried” — the highest percentage since these surveys began.

Climate experts HuffPost spoke to in August urged people who are anxious about the climate crisis to do one thing: Take action. Even though changes are needed at a massive scale, including actions by governments and corporations to reduce fossil fuel emissions, it doesn’t mean individuals can’t also make a difference.

“If you feel safe, if you feel distant, it means you’re not aware of your vulnerabilities,” said Isabel Rivera-Collazo, an assistant professor on human adaptation to climate change at the University of California, San Diego. “Climate change is so big, everyone is being threatened.”

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