Demographics of Climate Change: Who Believes It Is Real?

A 2008 survey for Yale University and George Mason University found that 72% of Americans claimed that global warming was an important issue to them personally. Over 90% of respondents said that the United States should act to reduce global warming, even if doing so had economic costs.  67% favored unilateral action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than waiting for other countries to act.

Following the 2008 survey, follow-up work by the same group of researchers has revealed growing awareness and concern over global warming and climate change. The authors note:

“We observed a sharp decline in public engagement from the fall of 2008 to January 2010, and a gradual rebound starting in June 2010. In our most recent survey in September 2012, we found that the rebound in public engagement has continued.”

The report downplays the significance of demographic differences between different survey responders. Dividing Americans into six groups depending in their attitudes, the authors state that:

“The Six Americas do not vary much by age, gender, race or income They range instead along a spectrum of belief, concern and issue engagement, from the Alarmed to the Dismissive.”

Other studies, however, do show some degree of difference based on age, educational background and gender.

A British Social Attitudes Survey, for instance, conducted in 2011, reveals some statistically significant differences in attitudes to climate change. 76% of those surveyed stated that they “believe that climate change is taking place and is, at least partly, a result of human actions.” A further 16% stated that they believe climate change is taking place but “not as a result of human actions.”

Beyond the headline figures, opinion differed according to a range of demographic factors:

  • 66% of those aged over 65 believed that climate change is caused by human actions
  • by contrast, 79% of 18-34 year olds take the view that human action is responsible for climate change
  • 63% of those with no post-school qualifications were unconvinced about the role of humans in producing climate change
  • University graduates were much more likely to take the opposite view, with 86% agreeing that human activity was responsible

Differences in attitude were also noted based on income levels, with those in the highest quartile more likely than those in the lowest to believe that human activity was behind the changes in the earth’s climate.

A separate study by Aaron M McCright found a difference in attitudes based on gender. Using eight years of Gallup poll data from the United States, the study concludes that:

“Contrary to expectations from scientific literacy research, women convey greater assessed scientific knowledge of climate change than do men. Also, women express slightly greater concern about climate change than do men.”

Access to information is possibly significant overall in people’s views on environmental matters.  The fact is, the more information people have about the environment and climate change, the more likely they are to realize that it’s real and something must be done.

Tell us what you think in the comments below.  Do you believe climate change is real?