However, Americans’ views on the urgency of climate change remain about the same over the past decade.
WASHINGTON (October 4, 2023) — The majority of all Americans (61%) believe that climate change is caused mostly by human activity such as burning fossil fuels, according to a new national survey from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) examining Americans’ assessments of the threats of climate change, how it affects their lives and voting behavior, and what steps they are willing to take to combat climate change, with particular focus on the impact of religion on such views. The survey also explores how partisanship, media trust, race and ethnicity, generation, and education are linked to climate change attitudes, as well as Americans’ spiritual connections to the earth and reasons why they support taking action to protect the environment.
While the scientific consensus is clear that human activities, particularly carbon emissions, are the main culprit of climate change; views differ with respect to the causes of climate change, its political importance, and how to address it. The survey reveals that religious views on climate change are far from monolithic. “Most religious Americans believe that climate change is caused by human activity, with some notable outliers” says Melissa Deckman, Ph.D., CEO of PRRI. “While there are noticeable differences in Americans’ support for legislative action on climate, many religious Americans, across traditions, share a commitment to caring for creation as part of their faith.”
Causes of Climate Change
The majority of Americans (61%) believe that climate change is caused mostly by human activity such as burning fossil fuels. However, partisanship colors those views, as more than eight in ten Democrats (83%) say climate change is caused by humans, compared to 64% of independents and 28% of Republicans. Republicans are more likely than independents and Democrats to believe that climate change is caused by “natural patterns in the earth’s environment” (50%, 28%, and 12%, respectively).
Yet religion matters, too: Three-fourths of Hispanic Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans (76%) believe climate change is caused by human activity as do the majority of other non-Christians (70%), Jewish Americans (67%), Hispanic Protestants (61%), Black Protestants (59%), other Protestants of color (59%), white Catholics (56%), white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants (54%). Less than half of Latter-day Saints believe climate changed is caused by human activity (48%), and just three in ten white evangelical Protestants (31%) believe that climate change is caused by humans.
Additionally, 35% of Americans agree that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence that we are in what the Bible calls “the end of times,” compared to 63% who disagree. In 2014, Americans were evenly divided on this question (49% agree vs. 47% disagree). Substantial majorities of Black Protestants (73%) and white evangelical Protestants (62%) believe that the severity of natural disasters is evidence that we are in the end of times.
Environmental Stewardship Is Important to Religious Americans.
When Americans were asked about the importance of “living up to our God given role as stewards to take care of the earth” as a reason for protecting the environment, 28% say that it is extremely important, 30% say that it is very important, 20% say it is somewhat important, and 21% say it is not too important (7%) or at all important (14%). The survey also finds that majorities of all other religious groups say that living up to God’s given role as stewards is extremely or very important, with the exception of Jewish Americans (34%) and other non-Christians (41%). For religiously unaffiliated Americans, the percentage who say this is extremely or very important is 33%.
In addition, more Americans than not (52% vs. 45%) agree with the statement “most days, I feel a deep spiritual connection with nature and the earth.” At least half of members of all religious groups say they feel a deep spiritual connection with nature and the earth. Nearly three in four Latter-day Saints (73%) and six in ten members of other non-Christian religions (61%), Hispanic Catholics (60%), white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants (58%), and Black Protestants (56%) also agree. Around half of white evangelical Protestants (54%), Hispanic Protestants (53%), White Catholics (51%), and other protestants of color (48%) say they feel a deep spiritual connection with nature and the earth.
Is Climate Change a Crisis?
Americans’ views on the urgency of climate change have remained about the same over the past decade, with just over one-quarter of Americans (27%) saying that climate change is a crisis, just a few percentage points up from 23% in 2014.
When considering religion: With the exception of the religiously unaffiliated and white evangelical Protestants, beliefs on the severity of climate change have not shifted significantly among religious traditions over the past decade. About three in ten Jewish Americans (32%), Hispanic Catholic (31%), and other Protestants of color (27%) as well as about two in ten white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants (22%), white Catholics (20%), Black Protestant (19%), and Hispanic Protestants (16%) view climate change as a crisis. Just one in ten Latter-day Saints (10%) believe the same. Among religiously unaffiliated Americans, the belief that climate change is best described as a crisis increased by ten percentage points from 33% in 2014 to 43% in 2023. By contrast, among white evangelical Protestants, agreement with this belief went down from 13% to 8% during same period.
When considering political party: Views about the salience of climate change have become more politically polarized. The belief among Republicans that climate change is a crisis dropped to 6% from 12% in 2014. By contrast, the belief that climate change is a crisis among Democrats increased by ten percentage points over the past decade from 34% in 2014 to 44% in 2023. Among independents, the belief that climate change is a crisis shifted slightly from 21% in 2014 to 25% in 2023.
When considering age: Younger generations are much more likely to see climate change as a crisis. Roughly one-third of Gen Z (34%) and Millennials (32%) see climate change as a crisis—compared to around two in ten members of Gen X (23%), Baby boomers (23%), or the Silent Generation (17%).
When considering solutions: Most Americans are generally supportive of a variety of policies to fight climate change, even when asked to consider likely increases in costs or taxes. Despite winning support from majorities of Democrats and independents, Republicans lean towards opposing most policies, with the exception of tax breaks. 77% of Americans support providing tax breaks for individuals who adopt renewable energy sources to power their home, including 60% of Republicans, 78% of independents, and 89% of Democrats. On PRRI’s “Climate Action Scale,” which measures support for public policies to address climate change (0-1), white evangelical Protestants score lowest (0.41)—the only major religious group to fall on the lower half of the scale. In comparison, Latter-day Saints (0.51); other Protestants of color (0.51); Hispanic Protestants (0.52); and white Catholics (0.53) are close to the middle, and other groups of Christians of color and non-Christian Americans score highest on the climate action scale, including Hispanic Catholics (0.60); Black Protestants (0.61); Jewish Americans (0.62); other non-Christian Americans (0.66); and religiously unaffiliated Americans (0.66).
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The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was carried out among a representative sample of 5,192 adults (age 18 and up) living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel and an additional 348 who were recruited by Ipsos using opt-in survey panels to increase the sample sizes in smaller states. Interviews were conducted online between June 8-28, 2023. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 1.62 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, including the design effect for the survey of 1.51. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context, and order effects.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.
 Only 4% of Democrats and 8% of independents say there is no solid evidence that climate change is happening, for Republicans, that percentage is 20%.
 We categorize white evangelical Protestants as those who identify as a born-again or evangelical Christians. White mainline/non-evangelical Protestants refer to those who do not identify as a born-again or evangelical Christian but identify as Protestant. Protestants who identify with other minority racial groups that are non-Hispanic or Black are categorized as other Protestants of color. Other non-Christians include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist, or Unitarian Universalists, or those belonging to any other world religion.