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Why some people don't see climate change as an urgent problem

People were often suspicious of "crisis" terminology in the context of climate change because it did not match what they had personally experienced.
Why some people don't see climate change as an urgent problem
Posted at 8:02 PM, Aug 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-11 20:02:20-04

The latest data from Pew Research Center finds some Americans consider addressing climate change to be a lower priority, and some continue to outright deny that the climate is changing.

Pew Research Center polled a nationally representative sample of American adults and found that while the largest share — 46% —  said warming was due to human activity, 26% of respondents believe warming is due to natural weather patterns. Another 14% say there's no evidence of warming at all.

Meanwhile, 37% of respondents said the president and Congress should make addressing climate change a top priority. And 34% said it should be an important but lower priority, while 17% said it shouldn't be important for Congress, and 11% said nothing should be done.

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To dig further into these numbers, Pew interviewed a selection of adults who had said climate change wasn't occurring at all.

Pew found language of "crisis" in the context of climate change caused people to be suspicious, often because what respondents had personally experienced didn't match with the crisis rhetoric often applied to climate change.

These respondents were less likely to trust national news media as a credible source, though they were relatively more likely to trust factual information coming from climate experts.

They were open to the government taking steps to improve environmental quality, particularly at smaller community scales.

And they emphasized the importance of individual freedom when it came to energy sources and transitioning to cleaner ones. They were critical, for example, of policies that called for an end to the production of new gasoline-powered vehicles. 

Most of these interviewees said that the ongoing warming of Earth and the frequent extreme weather patterns brought on by a changing climate were due to natural variation. They often pointed to the planet's history of warming and cooling periods as evidence that climate and weather effects were cyclical.

The best available science today holds that the climate is warming as a direct result of human-driven fossil fuel emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of expert lawmakers and scientists from 195 countries around the world, states that this evidence is "unequivocal."

"Since systematic scientific assessments began in the 1970s, the influence of human activity on the warming of the climate system has evolved from theory to established fact," the panel writes.


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