Attitudes on Climate Change are Changing – For the Worse

Image by Andrew Petrischev.

As we expect record-breaking, boiling temperatures across America’s east coast, we are reminded that global warming is a real threat. Unfortunately, according to a recent poll, younger adults now express less urgency regarding climate change than in prior polls.

According to the latest Monmouth University Poll, most Americans continue to acknowledge the existence of climate change, but the number who see this as a very serious problem has fallen below half. Support for government action to reduce activities that impact the climate has also dropped significantly. The poll finds that the drop in the importance and urgency of climate change has been most pronounced among younger adults.

According to the poll, “Nearly 3 in 4 Americans (73%) believe the world’s climate is undergoing a change leading to more extreme weather patterns and sea level rise, while 23% say this is not happening. Belief in climate change is down slightly from polls taken in 2021 (76%) and 2018 (78%).”

Breaking it down politically, the poll found that “nearly all Democrats (92%) believe climate change is happening, which has been fairly consistent across prior polls,” but that “Republicans (51%) are the least likely to accept climate change as a reality…”

Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, clarified the poll result saying “Most Americans continue to believe climate change is real. The difference in these latest poll results is a decline in a sense of urgency around this issue.”

But it’s not clear that this is truly the case.

The Pew Research Center noted in March that Republican leaders have staked out different positions on climate and energy issues.

The poll found that “few Republicans see climate change as a top priority for the country. Just 12% of Republicans and Republican leaners say dealing with climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress, according to a January 2024 survey.”

By contrast, 59% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. An even larger majority (78%) views it as a major threat to the U.S.

This appears to support the Monmouth poll that older adults view climate change as a serious threat, whereas younger adults do not.

Interestingly, a previous Monmouth poll released in April found only 15% of voters view climate change as a determinate issue in how they will vote in the 2024 presidential election, ranking far lower than inflation, immigration, and abortion.

Overall, according to that poll, “less than half (46%) of the American public sees climate change as a very serious problem.”

There has also been a drop in support for government action on climate change. A clear majority continues to support government action, but it is a lower number than in the past. Most Democrats (89%) support government action on climate change while few Republicans (30%) feel the same.

“Support for climate action remains relatively high in absolute terms, but it has softened due to a drop in the sense of urgency on this issue, particularly among younger adults,” said Murray.

What is worrying is that the percentage of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 who see climate change as a very serious problem has fallen by 17 points in the past three years (50%, down from 67% in 2021).

At the same time, support for government action to reduce climate change activities stands at 62% among those age 18 to 34, which is similar to current support levels among older Americans.

However, support among younger adults has dropped significantly from prior polls, while it has remained fairly stable among Americans age 35 and older during the past decade.

Results from a Pew Research Center poll conducted last year suggest that a dip in public concern about climate change occurred around 2022, although it remains unclear as to why.

Public opinion remains mixed on the degree to which human behavior contributes to change in the climate. Just over one-third (34%) say climate change is caused mainly by human activity while 31% say human activity and natural changes in the environment play equal roles.

Just over half of Americans (51%) say there is still time to prevent the worst effects of climate change while just 17% say it is too late.

But we can only tackle global warming if other major pollution-producing countries also take it seriously.

For instance, according to Gallup, roughly three in five Indians (62%) perceive climate change as a threat to their country in the next 20 years – with 37% seeing it as a “very serious” threat.

But these perceptions vary by region. Indians living in the coastal state of Kerala feel the most threatened by climate change, whereas people in Assam or Madhya Pradesh are least concerned about climate change.

More can be done to change public perceptions on the seriousness of global warming and climate change. If younger people are not as concerned about the issue, as the data suggests, then we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that these young voters learn about the issue and then use their voice to force governments to take real action.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.