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What the data says about Americans’ views of climate change

Autor: Carrie Blazina
Activists display prints replicating solar panels during a rally to mark Earth Day at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 2022. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP File)
Activists display prints replicating solar panels during a rally to mark Earth Day at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 2022. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP File)

A recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has underscored the need for international action to avoid increasingly severe climate impacts in the years to come. Steps outlined in the report, and by climate experts, include major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from sectors such as energy production and transportation.

But how do Americans feel about climate change, and what steps do they think the United States should take to address it? Here are eight charts that illustrate Americans’ views on the issue, based on recent Pew Research Center surveys.

Pew Research Center published this collection of survey findings as part of its ongoing work to understand attitudes about climate change and energy issues. The most recent survey was conducted May 30-June 4, 2023, among 10,329 U.S. adults. Earlier findings have been previously published, and methodological information, including the sample sizes and field dates, can be found by following the links in the text.

Everyone who took part in the June 2023 survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.

A majority of Americans support prioritizing the development of renewable energy sources. Two-thirds of U.S. adults say the country should prioritize developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, over expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas, according to a survey conducted in June 2023.

A bar chart showing that two-thirds of Americans prioritize developing alternative energy sources, like wind and solar.

In a previous Center survey conducted in 2022, nearly the same share of Americans (69%) favored the U.S. taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050, a goal outlined by President Joe Biden at the outset of his administration. Carbon neutrality means releasing no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is removed.

Nine-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the U.S. should prioritize developing alternative energy sources to address America’s energy supply. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 42% support developing alternative energy sources, while 58% say the country should prioritize expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas.

There are important differences by age within the GOP. Two-thirds of Republicans under age 30 (67%) prioritize the development of alternative energy sources. By contrast, 75% of Republicans ages 65 and older prioritize expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas.

Americans are reluctant to phase out fossil fuels altogether, but younger adults are more open to it. Overall, about three-in-ten adults (31%) say the U.S. should completely phase out oil, coal and natural gas. More than twice as many (68%) say the country should use a mix of energy sources, including fossil fuels and renewables.

A bar chart that shows younger U.S. adults are more open than older adults to phasing out fossil fuels completely.

While the public is generally reluctant to phase out fossil fuels altogether, younger adults are more supportive of this idea. Among Americans ages 18 to 29, 48% say the U.S. should exclusively use renewables, compared with 52% who say the U.S. should use a mix of energy sources, including fossil fuels.

There are age differences within both political parties on this question. Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, 58% of those ages 18 to 29 favor phasing out fossil fuels entirely, compared with 42% of Democrats 65 and older. Republicans of all age groups back continuing to use a mix of energy sources, including oil, coal and natural gas. However, about three-in-ten (29%) Republicans ages 18 to 29 say the U.S. should phase out fossil fuels altogether, compared with fewer than one-in-ten Republicans 50 and older.

There are multiple potential routes to carbon neutrality in the U.S. All involve major reductions to carbon emissions in sectors such as energy and transportation by increasing the use of things like wind and solar power and electric vehicles. There are also ways to potentially remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it, such as capturing it directly from the air or using trees and algae to facilitate carbon sequestration.

The public supports the federal government incentivizing wind and solar energy production. In many sectors, including energy and transportation, federal incentives and regulations significantly influence investment and development.

A bar chart showing that two-thirds of U.S. adults say the federal government should encourage production of wind and solar power.

Two-thirds of Americans think the federal government should encourage domestic production of wind and solar power. Just 7% say the government should discourage this, while 26% think it should neither encourage nor discourage it.

Views are more mixed on how the federal government should approach other activities that would reduce carbon emissions. On balance, more Americans think the government should encourage than discourage the use of electric vehicles and nuclear power production, though sizable shares say it should not exert an influence either way.

When it comes to oil and gas drilling, Americans’ views are also closely divided: 34% think the government should encourage drilling, while 30% say it should discourage this and 35% say it should do neither. Coal mining is the one activity included in the survey where public sentiment is negative on balance: More say the federal government should discourage than encourage coal mining (39% vs. 21%), while 39% say it should do neither.

Americans see room for multiple actors – including corporations and the federal government – to do more to address the impacts of climate change. Two-thirds of adults say large businesses and corporations are doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. Far fewer say they are doing about the right amount (21%) or too much (10%).

A bar chart showing that two-thirds say large businesses and corporations are doing too little to reduce climate change effects.

Majorities also say their state elected officials (58%) and the energy industry (55%) are doing too little to address climate change, according to a March 2023 survey.

In a separate Center survey conducted in June 2023, a similar share of Americans (56%) said the federal government should do more to reduce the effects of global climate change.

When it comes to their own efforts, about half of Americans (51%) think they are doing about the right amount as an individual to help reduce the effects of climate change, according to the March 2023 survey. However, about four-in-ten (43%) say they are doing too little.

Democrats and Republicans have grown further apart over the last decade in their assessments of the threat posed by climate change. Overall, a majority of U.S. adults (54%) describe climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being. This share is down slightly from 2020 but remains higher than in the early 2010s.

A line chart that shows 54% of Americans view climate change as a major threat, but the partisan divide has grown.

Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (78%) describe climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being, up from about six-in-ten (58%) a decade ago. By contrast, about one-in-four Republicans (23%) consider climate change a major threat, a share that’s almost identical to 10 years ago.

Concern over climate change has also risen internationally, as shown by separate Pew Research Center polling across 19 countries in 2022. People in many advanced economies express higher levels of concern than Americans. For instance, 81% of French adults and 73% of Germans describe climate change as a major threat.

Climate change is a lower priority for Americans than other national issues. While a majority of adults view climate change as a major threat, it is a lower priority than issues such as strengthening the economy and reducing health care costs.

Overall, 37% of Americans say addressing climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress in 2023, and another 34% say it’s an important but lower priority. This ranks climate change 17th out of 21 national issues included in a Center survey from January.

As with views of the threat that climate change poses, there’s a striking contrast between how Republicans and Democrats prioritize the issue. For Democrats, it falls in the top half of priority issues, and 59% call it a top priority. By comparison, among Republicans, it ranks second to last, and just 13% describe it as a top priority.

Our analyses have found that partisan gaps on climate change are often widest on questions – such as this one – that measure the salience or importance of the issue. The gaps are more modest when it comes to some specific climate policies. For example, majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike say they would favor a proposal to provide a tax credit to businesses for developing technologies for carbon capture and storage.

A dot plot that shows climate change is a much lower priority for Republicans than for Democrats.

Perceptions of local climate impacts vary by Americans’ political affiliation and whether they believe that climate change is a serious problem. A majority of Americans (61%) say that global climate change is affecting their local community either a great deal or some. About four-in-ten (39%) see little or no impact in their own community.

A bar chart that shows Democrats more likely than Republicans to see local effects of climate change.

The perception that the effects of climate change are happening close to home is one factor that could drive public concern and calls for action on the issue. But perceptions are tied more strongly to people’s beliefs about climate change – and their partisan affiliation – than to local conditions.

For example, Americans living in the Pacific region – California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska – are more likely than those in other areas of the country to say that climate change is having a great deal of impact locally. But only Democrats in the Pacific region are more likely to say they are seeing effects of climate change where they live. Republicans in this region are no more likely than Republicans in other areas to say that climate change is affecting their local community.

Our previous surveys show that nearly all Democrats believe climate change is at least a somewhat serious problem, and a large majority believe that humans play a role in it. Republicans are much less likely to hold these beliefs, but views within the GOP do vary significantly by age and ideology. Younger Republicans and those who describe their views as moderate or liberal are much more likely than older and more conservative Republicans to describe climate change as at least a somewhat serious problem and to say human activity plays a role.

Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to report experiencing extreme weather events in their area over the past year – such as intense storms and floods, long periods of hot weather or droughts – and to see these events as connected with climate change.

About three-quarters of Americans support U.S. participation in international efforts to reduce the effects of climate change. Americans offer broad support for international engagement on climate change: 74% say they support U.S. participation in international efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

A bar chart showing that about three-quarters of Americans support a U.S. role in global efforts to address climate change.

Still, there’s little consensus on how current U.S. efforts stack up against those of other large economies. About one-in-three Americans (36%) think the U.S. is doing more than other large economies to reduce the effects of global climate change, while 30% say the U.S. is doing less than other large economies and 32% think it is doing about as much as others. The U.S. is the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter, contributing about 13.5% of the global total.

When asked what they think the right balance of responsibility is, a majority of Americans (56%) say the U.S. should do about as much as other large economies to reduce the effects of climate change, while 27% think it should do more than others.

A previous Center survey found that while Americans favor international cooperation on climate change in general terms, their support has its limits. In January 2022, 59% of Americans said that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to provide financial assistance to developing countries to help them build renewable energy sources.

In recent years, the UN conference on climate change has grappled with how wealthier nations should assist developing countries in dealing with climate change. The most recent convening in fall 2022, known as COP27, established a “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable countries impacted by climate change.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published April 22, 2022. Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.

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