The overwhelming majority of scientists have been certain for many years that climate change is a reality, it’s accelerating at a fast pace, and we only have a limited amount of time to halt the damage it’s causing to the earth.
Yet until the past year or two, many viewed environmentalism as a fringe movement, reserved for a select group of activists. Most of us simply weren’t aware of how catastrophic climate change had become and how quickly its effects were taking hold. Others were in denial and disbelief about it altogether.
But as it has become indisputably clear that something needs to be done now or the effects of climate change will be devastating and irreversible, more and more Americans are waking up to this fact.
For example, according to a newly released poll conducted by The Washington Post in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8 in 10 Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity. Roughly half of Americans agree we need to take action within the next 10 years to avert the effects of climate change. And about 4 in 10 Americans think it’s correct to call climate change a “crisis.”
Perhaps the most interesting — and inspiring — aspect of all this data is that it marks a clear change in thinking among Americans. Just five years ago, according to The Post, less than a fourth of all Americans were willing to categorize climate change as a “crisis.”
A 2019 Pew Research Center survey echoes this sentiment. According to the survey, a majority of Americans (56%) believe the government should make environmental protection a top goal, as opposed to only about 40% who held similar beliefs a decade ago.
An even greater majority (59%) of those surveyed by Pew feel they’ve seen firsthand the effects of climate change in their own communities (severe storms, wildfires, floods, etc.), adding to a growing sense of urgency among Americans about this issue.
This is all good news — but here’s the rub. Although a majority of Americans believe climate change is something that needs to be taken seriously and must be addressed as soon as possible, fewer Americans are willing to do very much about it, at least on their own.
As the The Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found, only 4 in 10 Americans believe confronting climate change should require any “major sacrifices” on their part. Additionally, the majority would not want to pay any out-of-pocket expenses to create a more eco-friendly planet.
About 50% of American adults would pay an extra $2 on their electricity bill to support more sustainable practices, according to The Post. But only a fourth would be willing to go up to $10 a month for such a cause. The idea of having to pay a gasoline tax is extremely unpopular among Americans, though the majority (two-thirds) are in favor of stricter fuel-efficiency laws for most vehicles.
The crux of it is, as The Post points out, is that most Americans feel climate change is not their job to fix, but rather something their elected officials should combat by changing policies and holding large carbon-emitting corporations accountable.
Of course, asking the government to take the lead here is far from a fool-proof idea. The Trump administration backed out of the Paris agreement, has categorically denied climate change is even real, and has scaled back environmentally-friendly government regulations put into place by prior administrations.
The fact is, although awareness of the issue among Republicans is growing, the Democratic-leaning cohort makes up the majority of climate change activists and believers. For example, according a 2018 Pew survey, three-fourths of Democrats and Independents believe climate change is fueled by human activity, as opposed to a fourth of Republicans.
But there is a shred of hope, even within the political divide. Younger Republicans are much more likely to take climate change seriously than older Republicans. According to Pew, Millennial Republicans were twice as likely to believe climate change is caused by human activity than Baby Boomer Republicans. They were also less likely to support fossil fuel energy sources than the older generations.
We don’t have time to wait for our government leaders to take action. But we can take heart in the fact that a strong majority of Americans seem to be deeply concerned about this issue, that this number only seems to be growing, and that the concern is not likely to die down anytime soon.
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