August 15, 2022
Only about half of Americans think their actions influence climate change, a decline from the two-thirds who said the same three years ago. They are also slightly less concerned about the effects of climate change on them personally or to say individuals have much responsibility to address climate change compared to 2019.
Most Americans continue to believe that climate change is happening and caused, at least in part, by human activities. Among those who believe climate change is happening, 70% acknowledge that individuals need to make lifestyle changes to fight climate change, and most are taking a variety of steps that reduce their own climate impact. However, they tend to be motivated more by financial reasons rather than environmental concerns.
Seventy-one percent of Americans believe that climate change is happening, 11% don’t think it’s happening, and 18% aren’t sure. Democrats are more likely to believe that climate change is happening than Republicans (90% vs. 51%).
Among Americans who believe climate change is happening, most believe climate change is caused either entirely or mostly by human activity. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe human activity is to blame for climate change. Few Americans attribute climate change to naturally occurring fluctuations in the environment.
Americans are particularly concerned by the impact climate change will have for future generations. The effect on coastal communities and low-income people is of great concern to many as well. The public is less concerned about the effects of climate change on them personally.
Fifty-three percent have taken at least one of the following actions to prepare for extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, floods, heat waves, or wildfires. Thirty-five percent have prepared a kit with emergency supplies, 32% have prepared a disaster plan, 21% have purchased a backup power generator, and 16% purchased additional insurance policies for weather related disasters.
Among Americans who believe climate change is happening, 70% think it is necessary for individuals to make major lifestyle changes to combat it. Democrats and women are more likely than Republicans or men to say it is necessary. Seventy percent of those who say individuals need to make major lifestyle changes to fight climate change think their own behavior influences climate change.
Most Americans are taking a variety of steps that reduce their own climate impact. And the people who believe their actions can influence climate change are more likely to engage in some eco-friendly behaviors.
However, while many Americans have taken eco-friendly actions, it is not always for environmental reasons. Many do so to save money or because it convenient.
Fewer Americans are engaging in activism related to climate change. Fifty-four percent have spoken with friends or family about climate change. Twenty-seven percent follow environmental organizations on social media, 20% volunteer or donate money to environmental organizations, and 14% have contacted their elected representatives regarding energy and climate policy.
Americans view the responsibility of addressing climate change as a national and global effort with the private sector and government more responsible than individuals. Democrats are more likely to assign responsibility to all entities compared to Republicans.
To explore the public’s agenda for the coming year, each December since 2015, The AP-NORC Center conducted a poll in which respondents provided up to five volunteered issues that they believe should be priorities for the federal government. This year, the public was also asked at the half-way mark what top five issues should be priorities for the federal government over the next year. Seventeen percent mentioned the environment or climate change. Democrats are more likely to cite climate or the environment as one of their top concerns than Republicans (29% vs. 5%)
Overall, 42% of the public approve of how President Biden is handling climate change, down from 52% last September. Among Democrats, 71% approve, while 81% of Republicans disapprove.
The nationwide poll was conducted June 23-27, 2022 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,053 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.0 percentage points.
- Suggested Citation: AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (August 2022). “More Americans are pessimistic about the impact they can have on climate change compared to three years ago.” https://apnorc.org/projects/more-americans-are-pessimistic-about-the-impact-they-can-have-on-climate-change-compared-to-three-years-ago/