Americans and Climate Change
As we saw in the past election, Americans are divided over climate change amongst many issues. Opinions on climate change vary widely across demographic characteristics and geography. However, climate change opinions are usually collected and analyzed at the national level rather than the local level. Fortunately, the Yale Program on Climate Communication developed a geographic and statistical model to bring national survey data to the state, congressional district, and county levels.
This information is key to understanding the diversity of opinions and beliefs in the country. Even though nationally 70% of Americans think global warming is happening, that percentage varies widely from one state to another and within states. In Emery County, Utah, for example, only 49% of people think global warming is happening compared to 84% of the residents in Alameda County, California.
Opinions related to the consequences of global warming are also diverse across geography. The following maps, created for a recent New York Times’ article on the topic, highlight these differences. There is some agreement that climate change will harm people in the country; however, most Americans believe it won’t harm them. According to this article, a possible explanation of this difference is risk perception. Since climate change is a problem with a variety of long-term consequences and few short-term ones, many people are not motivated to react.
In looking at these maps, you might think that the most vulnerable states would have a different perception about harm, but it seems that even inside those areas the diversity of opinions is still very large. In Florida, a state affected by increasing floods and intense hurricanes, the percentage of adults per county that are somewhat worried about global warming range from 40% to 70%.
Despite the fact that many Americans now agree that global warming is happening, only a third of the population talks about it in their everyday lives. Engaging in more discussions about this issue and changing daily behaviors are small steps, but surely a good start in what we can all do to fight the consequences of climate change.
TeachingWithData.org is a partnership between the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and the Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN), both at the University of Michigan. The project is funded by NSF Award 0840642, George Alter (ICPSR), PI and William Frey (SSDAN), co-PI.
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