Most Americans think climate change will harm other people -- poll

The United Nations' climate panel warned recently that global climate change is set to render "severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts" and 2014 will likely be the hottest year on record.

Yet the majority of Americans think the worst climate impacts will happen in poorer, less-developed foreign nations, and not in the United States, according to a new survey about religious beliefs and climate change among Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, and the American Academy of Religion.

Among a pool of 3,000 Americans, 24 percent of respondents said they believe climate change would personally harm them a great deal, while 30 percent said it would harm them moderately. Forty-five percent of respondents said climate change would inflict little to no harm upon them.

Highlighting an apparent conflict in the data, however, 54 percent of respondents reported that "people living in poorer developing countries will be harmed a great deal as a result of climate change," and 20 percent said those foreign residents would experience moderate damage.

Segmented in the three categories -- labeled "believers," "sympathizers" and "skeptics" -- 46 percent said they believe in climate change and said human activity is the primary cause driving steady global warming. In contrast, 26 percent said climate change isn't happening, and a quarter said either that the warming is due to natural fluctuations or that they were uncertain.


"That's a significant chunk of the public," said Dan Cox, the research director at PRRI, of the skeptic demographic. "We've found that ideology and partisanship drives these views."

When given a chance to explain why there isn't sufficient evidence to support climate change, the skeptics often cited the current weather and extreme winter storms, Cox added.

Skepticism is a 'white phenomenon'

"It affirms for some of these folks why climate change can't be happening," he said, alluding to cold weather patterns like the recent massive snowfall in Buffalo, N.Y. "I think that distinction [between weather and climate] is often hard to recognize."

The poll's results were sharply divided along racial, religious and political lines and, to a lesser extent Cox said, between generations.

Hispanics (41 percent) and African-Americans (36 percent) were both twice as likely to reply that climate change will harm them directly; 18 percent of white Americans predicted climate repercussions will hurt them personally.

Within religious groups, members of three Caucasian religious sects -- out of the eight religious affiliations the survey analyzed -- were the least likely to be highly or somewhat concerned about climatic changes. And those who identified as white evangelical Christians were the least likely to worry about climate change: 64 percent were either "somewhat" or "very" unconcerned, and 18 percent were "very" concerned.

Jewish Americans (66 percent), Hispanic Catholics (61 percent) and black Protestants (50 percent) said they believe in climate change, as did 57 percent of Americans without religious ties. Ï Regarding the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, those surveyed were about as divided as Congress: 52 percent said they supported the project, and 37 opposed it. Nearly 6 out of 10 (57 percent), however, favored measures that limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants even if the policies ramped up prices.

Self-identified members of the tea party were highly unlikely to believe in climate change (23 percent), and a majority (53 percent) were skeptics. Roughly two-thirds of Democrats said they believe in climate change, and 22 percent of Republicans said they are climate believers, while 46 percent said they are skeptical.

"More than three-quarters of climate change skeptics are white. So it's really a white phenomenon," Cox said. "We found a pretty significant racial divide."

Twitter: @benhulac | Email:

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