The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies recently published the results of its annual survey, "Climate Change In The American Mind." The study looks at the American perception of climate change, as well as the role of government and policy in addressing environmental concerns. One of the key findings of the survey was that the majority of Americans — 64 percent — “think global warming is happening.” This has remained relatively unchanged (with slight variation from year to year) since the surveys began in 2008.
Despite the inevitable presence of climate change skeptics, this survey shows that most Americans are aware of this environmental issue. The survey also showed that at least half of Americans — 52 percent — believe that humans are the cause of global warming. This statistic, too, has remained relatively unchanged since 2008. The consistency of these results show that the concept of climate change has become a reality in the mind of most Americans. Most of the country knows that there are not only problems with the environment, but that we are the cause of those problems.
The most startling result of the survey was the discovery that, despite awareness that global warming exists, most Americans aren’t talking about it. The study found that 25 percent of respondents “never” hear people they know talk about global warming. Forty-one percent of Americans are “worried” about global warming, but only 11 percent are “very worried.” The amount of people who say they “often” or "occasionally" discuss global warming with their friends or family is just 26 percent, down from 41 percent in 2008.
Religion is an obvious roadblock to the discussion of climate change. Unsurprisingly, 50 percent of respondents listed Pope Francis as someone they trust as a source of information about global warming. The Pope — who has been pushing the church forward in other social issues throughout his tenure so far — is scheduled to address climate change at a summit next week. Perhaps the Pope’s views will help move the discussion forward in the U.S. — where Catholics make up 24 percent of the population.
The results of the survey suggest that the American public is aware of global warming, but is taking an apathetic approach to stopping it. That’s likely because of the continued debate surrounding the issue from high-level religious and political leaders, but also because the negative effects of climate change seem either too distant or too inevitable. It’s easy for individuals to feel powerless to make any true change, when society seems to be moving in an environmentally-unfriendly direction regardless of their actions.
It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that climate change is already having an effect on our everyday lives. The U.S. and China recently reached an environmental deal, aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. California, attempting to survive an ongoing drought, has implemented mandatory water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history. According to the Huffington Post, 14 of the 15 hottest years in recorded history have occurred since 2000.
Climate change is an significant and critical problem. It won’t be solved if people simply start talking about it with each other, but at least the awareness will spread. In order for the world to start taking true action against global warming, everyone will need to work together. That starts at the top — with leaders that have the power to enact policy and influence the way the climate change debate unfolds. Given the important role religion has played in the discussion thus far, millions around the world will await to see what Pope Francis has to say next week.