Majority of Americans accept reality of climate change

By agency reporter
18 Dec 2012

While nearly 4-in-10 (36 per cent) Americans believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence that we are in what the Bible calls the “end times,” more than six-in-ten (63 per cent) say the severity is due to global climate change.

The December 2012 PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service, finds religious disagreement on what is behind the severe weather.

A majority of white mainline Protestants (65 per cent) and Catholics (60 per cent) believe the disasters are the result of climate change, while nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of white evangelical Protestants believe the storms are evidence that we are in Biblical “end times.”

Regardless of what the weather signifies, Americans generally agree that over the last few years, the weather has been getting more extreme (63 per cent), and that there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades (75 per cent).

“One of the more remarkable findings of the survey is that political polarisation in America not only affects how partisans view the causes of climate change, but it also colours even their perceptions of the weather,” said PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox.

“More than three-quarters of Democrats and nearly 6-in-10 independents believe that over the last few years, the weather is getting more extreme, while less than half of Republicans say they perceive this shift in the weather,” he added.

The new survey finds that among Americans who agree the earth is getting warmer, a majority (60 per cent) say these temperature changes are the result of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, while more than one-third (34 per cent) of those who believe temperatures are increasing say that these changes are due to natural patterns in the environment.

“While there is disagreement about the causes of, and to a lesser extent the existence of, global warming, there is nonetheless widespread agreement about the need for action,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “Nine-in-ten Americans who believe global warming is caused by human action and nearly six-in-ten Americans who believe global warming is due to natural weather patterns agree that the US government should do more to address the issue of climate change.”

Overall, two-thirds (67 per cent) of Americans say that the US government should do more to address climate change, compared to 31 per cent who disagree.

Among the findings of the survey are that:

- Only 2 per cent of Americans believe that the end of the world, as predicted by the ancient Mayans will occur by year’s end.

- 15 per cent of Americans believe that the end of the world, as many interpret the Book of Revelation, will occur in their lifetime.

Roughly 3-in-10 white evangelical Protestants (29 per cent) and minority Protestants (27 per cent) believe that the end of the world, as predicted in the book of Revelation, will occur in their lifetime. By contrast, no more than 1-in-10 Catholics (10 per cent), white mainline Protestants (eight per cent), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (seven per cent) agree.

A majority (55 per cent) of Americans agree that God gave human beings the task of living responsibly with the animals, plants and resources of the planet, which are not just for human benefit. Nearly 4-in-10 (38 per cent) Americans disagree, saying that God gave human beings the right to use animals, plants and all the resources of the planet for human benefit.

* Full results, including the topline questionnaire and survey methodology, online here:

* Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in the USA, specialising in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life.


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