May 20, 2022

One-third of Americans are “alarmed” about climate change, and over half are at least “concerned”

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Americans are more concerned about global warming than ever, according to the latest results from the long-running Climate Change in the American Mind survey on public opinion.

Image credits Andrea Spallanzani.

Researchers at Yale University and George Mason University (GMU) report that, as part of the results from a twice-a-year US-wide survey, around 59% of people in the country are either “alarmed” or “concerned” regarding climate change. They also responded to feeling more engaged with and supportive of policies meant to reduce pollution and the warming of the climate.

A full one-third (33%) of Americans were “alarmed” by the issue, adds a news release from GMU.

Heating up

With the effects of climate change ramping up throughout the world, the public is increasingly concerned about how our way of life is impacting the health of the planet and our own wellbeing. The recent increase in freak weather, heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires are prime examples of how shifts in the climate can wreak havoc on our communities.

Public opinion is increasingly aware of these changes, and there is a general shift in interest against damaging practices and a growing demand for solutions. The recent results of this survey, and a comparison between them and results in past years perfectly illustrates this shift.

Climate change is fueled by emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Other man-made sources of such gases include methane, nitrous oxide, and even water vapor. Various industrial, commercial, and domestic practices generate these emissions. Apart from that, human activity further promotes climate change through the destruction of natural ecosystems — which work to keep the current balance through the recycling of various gases, — replacement of natural landscapes, overconsumption, and various types of pollution.

As things are going now, these problems remain poorly addressed. Climate change, then, is very likely going to persist in the near to mid-future, and its effects will become evermore dire as mean temperatures increase.

Truth be told, uncoupling our way of life from fossil fuels completely is a massive challenge from a practical point of view. These substances keep our societies running, in a very literal sense, on nearly every level. Although there have been incredible advancements in the field of renewable energy and a lot of progress in implementing them, it would still take a lot of work to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy completely — and quite substantial upfront costs.

That being said, it’s becoming ever clearer that we don’t really have a way around it. Public opinion seems to be swinging around to that view as well, judging from these findings. And, although completing such a transition is a huge task, policymakers and governments have been doing painfully little to get it started. The end of the pandemic has also brought about a re-increase in emissions, as our economies grind back into gear, showcasing how little progress has actually been made up to now.

China, the US, and the EU, as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, have the most work to do. We can hope that, with public opinion breathing down their necks, the US government will start to make more meaningful strides in this regard. The EU has been making some laudable efforts, although they, too, have a ways to go. China, due to its political regime, is a wildcard as to how it will progress in regard to climate change; authoritarian regimes tend not to deal very well with global issues.

The United States’ largest (to date) step towards fighting climate change is the $555 billion “Build Back Better” bill, which aims to invest in renewable energy and clean transportation. At the time of writing this, it is still awaiting approval by Congress.

This “shockingly big jump” in public concern for climate change mirrors the increase in the proportion of Americans who believe climate change and freak weather are linked, says Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. This program has been conducting the survey for the last 14 years. The realization that weather can and does harm people, and the fact that Americans are starting to feel its effects on themselves, are likely driving this increase in awareness. 

“You’re beginning to see the coalescing of a powerful citizens’ movement demanding that leaders act, both business leaders and government leaders,” he says.

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