By: Natasha Grzincic and Anya Zoledziowski
VICE News partnered with the Guardian and pollster YouGov to find out how people living in the US think and feel about climate change.
Nearly half of Americans still don’t think climate change is caused by human activities, but Democrats were far less likely than Republicans to hold those views, a new VICE News and Guardian poll has found.
This year was marked by several unprecedented natural disasters, including a “heat dome” marked by sweltering temperatures of up to 113 F that plagued the Pacific Northwest, killing hundreds, and record-breaking wildfire seasons that razed entire towns and displaced thousands. Experts linked the string of natural disasters to the climate crisis, and yet, many Americans are still struggling to understand whether and why the generation-defining crisis is happening.
The poll, which surveyed 1,000 Americans on behalf of VICE News, the Guardian, and Covering Climate Now, by YouGov, comes less than a week before leaders and delegates from around the world meet in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26, the United Nations’ climate change conference. The data shows that climate change is a top voter issue in the U.S., behind health care and social programs. For college grads and Democrats, climate change jumped to top spot (for Democrats it was tied with health care).
But while 69.5 percent of respondents believe global warming is happening, they were divided on what’s causing it. Forty-five percent don’t think humans are mostly to blame for global warming, opting instead to blame “natural changes in the environment” or “other,” and 8.3 percent denied global warming is happening altogether.
That’s mostly due to Republicans (55.4 percent) and independents (33 percent) though, who were far more likely than Democrats (17.2 percent) to believe “natural causes” have led to global warming. Young people and educated folks too were significantly more likely to believe humans are to blame for climate change.
A significant group of people also believe scientists don’t see eye to eye. Many respondents (30.5 percent) think there’s a raging scientific debate over the cause of climate change when there really isn’t. Globally, there is consensus among scientists—97 percent or more—that global warming is happening because of human activities, according to NASA and international science societies.
But again, this number is split by political affiliation. Exactly half of Republicans said they believe there is discord between scientists, compared to only about 14.9 percent of Democrats.
How guilty is Big Oil?
The poll suggests most people think oil and gas companies are to blame for climate change, as opposed to the government, the meat industry, retail, and individuals. But Democrats (83.4 percent) were far more likely than Republicans (27.8 percent) to place most of the blame on the oil industry, as were Black and Latinx folks over white people and other races.
The good news is that after reading a passage about how oil and gas behemoth Exxon already knew of climate change in the 70s but pretended it wasn’t real, 67.2 percent of respondents—up from 60.3—said oil and gas companies are mostly or completely to blame.
Majority believes climate change has harmed US
Most respondents (59.4 percent, and 83.8 percent of Democrats) agree that climate change has already harmed people in the U.S., and nearly half believe it’s happening in their own community. People of colour were more likely to say that climate change has already harmed people: 69.2 percent of Black and 67.7 percent of Latinx respondents said global warming-related harm has happened in the US.
As such, Black and Latinx people are also more likely to take proactive steps to combat climate change. According to the poll, 57.8 percent of respondents believe they can make change—but that figure skyrockets among Black people (78.1 percent) and Latinx (72.2 percent). (Black and brown people are often on the front lines of the climate crisis in the U.S. disproportionately affected by climate change in the US when compared to white people. VICE World News has previously reported how climate justice activism often excludes people of color despite the fact that they’re the ones on the front lines of the crisis.)
The good news is that a majority of Americans say they’re already flying and driving less, using less electricity at home, and recycling. About half are also either already eating less meat or willing to do so, and nearly two-thirds support purchasing products from eco-friendly businesses.
But people are less likely to take their efforts to the streets: 78.9 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t protest, while 69.2 percent said they wouldn’t donate to an activist group or cause. A majority (59.7 percent) also said they won’t track their carbon footprint.
The national poll was conducted between Oct. 7 and Oct. 13, 2021 and relied on a proportionally representative sample of adults about 18 in the U.S. Gender, race, age, education, political affiliation, geographic locations, news interest, and income were represented. The margin of sampling error is 4.1 percentage points, plus or minus, at the 95 percent confidence level.
This story originally appeared in Vice News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
All images courtesy of Unsplash.