Each year, commemorations of Earth Day mobilize people around the world to raise awareness about protecting the planet. The theme for Earth Day 2022, “Invest in Our Planet,” is focused on accelerating solutions to combat climate change and to motivate everyone to do their part. Earth Day organizers are calling on Americans to “Invest in Our Planet” with their wallets, with their votes, and with their voices. But, after 50 years of celebrating Earth Day, where do Americans stand on climate change and the environment?
According to data collected over the past 12 months from the YouGov Social Change Monitor, a biweekly survey of social attitudes among U.S. adult citizens, most Americans (71%) say that climate change and the environment — asked about jointly — is an important issue. One in seven Americans (14%) view climate change as the most important issue, trailing only health care (19%) and jobs and the economy (15%) in issues ranked by how many Americans view them as most important. Furthermore, more than half of Americans (56%) self-identify as an “environmentalist.”
American attitudes about the importance of climate change vary by age, race, political party, and where one lives — though majorities of just about all subgroups say it is important. Four in five Americans who live in a city (80%) view the issue of climate change as very or somewhat important, a greater share than among Americans who live in a suburb (70%), town (68%), or rural area (62%). Younger adults (81% of Gen Z and 78% of Millennials) are more likely to view climate change as an important issue than are older generations (70% of Gen X, 65% of Baby Boomers, and 55% of the Silent Generation). More than three-quarters of Black (84%), Asian (83%), and Hispanic (82%) Americans agree that climate change is important, compared to only two-thirds of White Americans (67%). 9 in 10 Democrats (93%) believe climate change is important, in contrast to fewer than half of Republicans (45%). (A different YouGov survey this year found that 6% of Americans say the world’s climate is not changing, including 1% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans.)
These findings indicate that the global environmental movement has raised Americans’ awareness about the importance of climate change and the environment. However, when it comes to taking actionable steps against climate change, Americans appear to have fallen flat. Although most Americans (71%) agree that climate change and the environment are important, only one-third of Americans have participated in any civic activities to support the environmental movement or combat climate change (35%; 65% have not). Furthermore, over half of Americans who believe climate change is important (59%) or who identify as environmentalists (51%) have not taken any steps or actions to support the environmental movement and negate climate change.
Americans who live in a city (41%) are more likely to participate in civic activities to support environmental causes than Americans in a rural area (27%). More younger adults (42% of Gen Z and 40% of Millennials) engage in environmental-related activities than do members of older generations (31% of Gen X, 31% of Baby Boomers, 32% of the Silent Generation). Even though Hispanic Americans (82%) are more likely to say climate change is important than are White Americans (67%), Hispanic Americans (31%) are less likely to engage in civic activities to support the environmental movement than White Americans (35%). Despite the large gap between Democrats (93%) and Republicans (45%) on whether climate change is important, there is a smaller gap on taking action: fewer than half of Democrats (49%) and one-quarter of Republicans (26%) participate in civic activities to support environmental causes.
The top activities Americans engaged in to support the environmental movement include purchasing from a sustainability-oriented business (16%), having conversations with others about issues affecting their community (12%), posting or sharing a political opinion on social media (8%), and signing a petition (6%). Among each racial group and region analyzed, purchasing from a sustainability-oriented business is the top activity. Yet, the top environmental-related activity for Baby Boomers (13%) and the Silent Generation (14%) was having conversations with others about issues affecting their community.
After 50 years of Earth Day celebrations, these findings suggest that the environmental movement has successfully raised awareness about the importance of climate change and the environment in the U.S. However, whether Americans are ready to accept the challenge of actively investing in our planet remains to be seen.
— Taylor Orth contributed to this article
Methodology: The YouGov Social Change Monitor is a biweekly survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online. A total of 42,000 interviews were conducted between April 6, 2021 and April 5, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2020 Presidential vote choice. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 0.5% for the entire sample.