Why do 3 out of 10 Americans believe that climate change is not a major issue?
BY: JAYLENE MATIAS
Despite the urgent calls from scientists to address climate change, some Americans don’t think it should be a top priority, and some even dispute its existence.
Overall, 46% of Americans believe human activity is the main cause of climate change. In contrast, 26% feel that environmental patterns play a major role in warming, and another 14% don’t think there is any evidence that the Earth is warming at all.
Three out of ten people (39%) believe that addressing climate change is either not very important (17%) or not important at all (11%).
Pew Research Center conducted in-depth interviews with 32 US individuals who hold a range of perspectives on climate change in order to better understand the “why” behind these beliefs.
Residents from the Midwest, Mountain West, South, Southwest, and coastal Florida were interviewed virtually in May 2023. Pew chose a diverse group of interviewees from all political parties, ideologies, genders, and educational levels.
Why 3 in 10 Americans don’t consider climate change to be an issue
Humans are thought to play a limited influence in climate change, which is considered as a natural cycle of the planet. The majority of the 32 interviewees acknowledged that the climate on Earth is changing, but most often they interpreted the changes as being a result of naturally occurring patterns. They believe that humans have little to no control over these changes because they view climate change as natural.
One interviewee, a man in his 50s said, “I think that [extreme weather events] are not happening more. … It may seem like things are happening more and more, but I think that just that’s the cycle of life, the cycle of Earth.”
Regarding assertions that climate change is urgent. Participants frequently expressed dissatisfaction about how other individuals treat climate change as an urgent situation requiring rapid action. Many claimed that when they hear these arguments, they are shocked and pay more attention to the motivations underlying such claims.
Another interviewee, A man in his 20s said, “People who are alarmist tend to want really drastic policies that seem to not make sense, so it kind of makes me disbelieve the other things they’re saying.”
Although they are regarded as experts, climate scientists are also thought to be biased. Many interviewees expressed a desire to hear more from climate scientists, but some of the same people also expressed a lack of full confidence in them due to their suspicion of possible financial incentives and personal prejudices.
Most people actually have doubts regarding the accuracy of the news reported by traditional news sources. The majority of the 32 participants characterized the media’s portrayal of climate change as selective and unreliable. Some have said that media organizations are more driven by financial gain than by the need for accuracy.
Common misconceptions about climate change are what leads society to either not believing climate change is real or not care about it at all.