New survey finds 4-in-10 white evangelicals are climate change skeptics; stark differences by religious affiliation and race in beliefs and concern about climate change
WASHINGTON — In the wake of a climate deal with China and congressional vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, a new national survey finds that few Americans believe they will personally be harmed by climate change but that it poses significant risk to people in poorer countries. The PRRI/AAR Religion, Values and Climate Change Survey finds that less than one-quarter (24 percent) of Americans believe that they will be personally harmed a great deal by climate change, while 30 percent say climate change will affect them a moderate amount. Nearly half say climate change will cause them little (23 percent) or no (22 percent) harm. In contrast, a majority (54 percent) of Americans say that people living in poorer developing countries will be harmed a great deal as a result of climate change, while 20 percent say people in developing countries will experience a moderate amount of harm.
The landmark 3,000-person survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in association with the American Academy of Religion, explores beliefs and concerns about climate change and the impact of religion on those attitudes. To better understand the range of Americans’ beliefs about climate change, PRRI classified respondents into three different categories based on their opinions about the existence and causes of climate change: “Believers,” the 46 percent of Americans who say the earth is getting warmer primarily because of human activity; “Sympathizers,” the one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans who believe the global temperature is rising but believe it is primarily due to natural variations or are uncertain about its cause; and “Skeptics,” the 26 percent of Americans who believe there is no solid evidence the earth’s temperature is rising. When skeptics are asked to share in their own words why they believe the earth’s temperature is not rising, the most frequently cited answer (33 percent) is that they have not noticed much change in their local weather.
“White evangelical Protestants stand out from other religious groups in their willingness to embrace theological over scientific explanations for the severity of recent natural disasters and in their skepticism that human beings are playing a role in rising global temperatures,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and the co-chair of the Religion and Politics Section at the AAR. “Nearly four-in-ten white evangelicals are climate change skeptics.”
Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Jewish Americans and approximately 6-in-10 Hispanic Catholics (61 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (57 percent) are climate change believers, while white mainline Protestants and white Catholics closely resemble the general public. Half (50 percent) of black Protestants are climate change believers, while 32 percent are sympathizers and 16 percent are skeptics. By contrast, only 27 percent of white evangelical Protestants are climate change believers, while 29 percent are sympathizers and nearly 4-in-10 (39 percent) are skeptics. When asked in two separate questions about reasons for the severity of recent natural disasters , nearly 8-in-10 (77 percent) white evangelical Protestants agree it is evidence of the biblical “end times” compared to less than half (49 percent) who attribute it to climate change.
Religious groups’ concern about climate change follows a similar pattern. Among white evangelical Protestants, only about one-in-three are very concerned (18 percent) or somewhat concerned (17 percent) about climate change. On the other end of the scale, nearly three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics are very concerned (43 percent) or somewhat (30 percent) concerned about climate change.
On policy, the survey finds a majority (52 percent) of Americans support the building of the Keystone XL pipeline with 37 percent of Americans opposed. At the same time, nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) Americans favor stricter limits on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from power plants even if they raise the price of goods and services, while 38 percent of Americans are opposed.
The survey also finds that while most (54 percent) Americans say religion and science are often in conflict, only a minority (38 percent) say their own religious beliefs are at odds with science.
“Religiously unaffiliated Americans and Jewish Americans stand out for being most likely to perceive a conflict between religion and science and least likely to say their own religious beliefs are discordant with science,” noted Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “This suggests that both groups see the conflict between religion and science to be the result of actions or behavior of other religious communities.”
There are also stark differences in attitudes about climate change by race. Members of racial and ethnic minorities are more likely than white Americans to predict that they will experience harm as a result of climate change and to express concern about climate change. Hispanic (41 percent) and black Americans (36 percent) are at least twice as likely as white Americans (18 percent) to say they will be personally harmed a great deal by climate change. More than 7-in-10 Hispanic Americans are very (46 percent) or somewhat (25 percent) concerned about the impact of climate change. Similarly, nearly 6-in-10 black Americans are very (36 percent) or somewhat (21 percent) concerned about climate change. By contrast, less than half of white Americans are very (23 percent) or somewhat (21 percent) concerned about climate change.
The 2014 Religion, Values & Climate Change Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in association with the American Academy of Religion and funded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and The Ford Foundation. Results of the survey were based on 3,022 bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews (1,502 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone) conducted by professional interviewers by SSRS among a random sample of American adults between September 18, 2014 and October 8, 2014. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.4 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.9. For more information about how the survey was conducted, click here.
Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.
The American Academy of Religion (AAR) is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, with about 9,000 members who teach in some 900 colleges, universities, seminaries, and schools in North America and abroad.