A new survey from YouGov asked Americans for their thoughts on climate change, including what they believe its potential impacts could be and whether they believe they and their country are doing enough to tackle climate change. The findings suggest that most Americans anticipate dire consequences to climate change, but many believe there are still ways to avoid the worst of it.
The overwhelming majority (85%) of U.S. adult citizens say that the climate is changing, though not everyone in that group agrees about how much humans are to blame.
Americans are nearly evenly split on whether human activity is entirely or partially to blame for climate change. While 35% hold the view that the climate is changing and human activity is mainly responsible, 36% believe that the climate is changing and human activity is partly responsible, along with other factors. Far fewer (14%) say the climate is changing, but human activity is not the cause. Just 6% say the climate is not changing, while 9% are not sure.
Regardless of how much of the blame for it they pin on humanity, many Americans believe it will have dire consequences — up to and including the extinction of the human race and the Earth becoming uninhabitable for all life forms.
A majority (57%) of Americans say it is very or somewhat likely that climate change will do serious damage to the global economy. A similar percentage (55%) foresee the mass displacement of people from some parts of the world to others. More than half believe it is likely that entire cities will be lost to rising sea levels (54%) and 49% think small wars will be another consequence of climate change. And 37% of Americans say it's likely that climate change will lead to a new world war.
Some Americans think it’s likely that climate change will destroy life as we know it entirely. Just over one-third (36%) consider it likely that climate change will lead to Earth becoming uninhabitable for all life. Slightly fewer (31%) say climate change is likely to lead to the extinction of the human race. (Presumably some of the people who don’t believe this but do think Earth won’t be able to sustain life expect humanity to carry on somewhere else.)
Democrats are more likely than Independents or Republicans to say it’s likely for such catastrophic events to result from climate change. Close to four in five Democrats say it is very or somewhat likely that climate change will cause mass displacement of people from some parts of the world to others (78%), serious damage to the global economy (77%), and cities being lost to rising sea levels (76%). About half (48%) say it is likely that climate change will lead to the Earth becoming uninhabitable and 41% say it’s likely humanity will go extinct.
The climate-change impact the greatest share of Republicans see as likely is serious damage to the global economy, which about one-third (32%) believe is very likely or somewhat likely. However, a larger percentage (40%) say this is not very likely or not at all likely, and 13% say the climate is not changing.
Americans see fatal consequences for climate change, but say it’s not too late
While many Americans consider catastrophic consequences from climate change, relatively few believe that it’s too late to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Two in five (43%) say we are still able to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but it would require a drastic change in the steps taken to tackle it. Fewer (17%) believe we will be able to avoid the worst effects of climate change if we broadly carry on with the steps currently being taken to tackle it.
Just 12% think it’s already too late to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Another 22% aren’t sure.
Democrats (65%) are more than three times as likely as Republicans (19%) to say there needs to be a drastic change in the approaches taken to combat climate change. Among Independents, 41% agree.
How do Americans think the world should respond to climate change? When asked to choose between two possible approaches, they’re split on which to prioritize. The largest share (37%) say they would prefer that governments and societies take an approach where we attempt to reduce consumption of resources to slow or halt the negative effects of climate change. Slightly fewer (30%) would prefer an approach where we attempt to come up with technological solutions to try to counter the effects of climate change. Another 27% are unsure.
Democrats (52%) are more likely than Independents (33%) or Republicans (22%) to say the best approach would be one that focuses on reducing the consumption of resources.
How Americans rate themselves and the U.S. when it comes to climate change
When asked if they believe they could personally do more to address climate change, Americans are nearly evenly split: 40% believe they could be doing more, and 38% say they’re already doing as much as they reasonably can.
Adults under 30 are especially likely to believe they could personally be doing more to address the climate crisis, at 45%. However, a similar percentage (35%) of people 65 and older also share this view.
As for whether the U.S. could be doing more to tackle climate change, 52% of Americans say it could be doing more. About half as many (27%) think the country is already doing as much as it reasonably can.
American adults 65 and older are especially likely (61%) to say the U.S. could be doing more to tackle climate change. Among 45- to 64-year-olds, 52% think the country could be doing more. Fewer (41%) 30- to 44-year-olds think the U.S. could be doing more. Among adults under 30, over half (56%) think the U.S. could be doing more when it comes to climate change.
The gaps between political parties on these questions are much larger than the generational gaps. A majority (57%) of Democrats think they could personally be doing more to tackle climate change, which is a view shared by far fewer Independents (39%) and Republicans (18%). Three in 10 Democrats think they’re already doing as much as they reasonably can, while most (54%) Republicans say they are.
As for the country’s action on climate change, nearly four in five (76%) Democrats believe the U.S. could be doing more to address the issue. Around half (51%) of Independents agree, while just over one-fifth (22%) of Republicans share the same view. About half (48%) of Republicans think the U.S. is already doing as much as it reasonably can when it comes to climate change.
Among Americans who believe that human activity is mainly responsible for climate change, a majority (62%) say they believe they personally could be doing more to mitigate it. More than four in five (84%) believe that the U.S. could be doing more to tackle climate change.
— Linley Sanders and Carl Bialik contributed to this article
Methodology: This U.S. News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between April 13 - 19, 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 news interest and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.3% for the entire sample.