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How Religious Americans Think About The Environment, Natural Disasters, and More
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux,
04.22.2012

Yesterday was Earth Day – what better excuse to meditate on religious (and non-religious) Americans’ varying perspectives on environmental issues? After all, nearly 6-in-10 (59%) of Americans say they hear clergy at their place of worship speak about the environment. From natural disasters to global warming to environmental policy, here are a few tidbits for your Earth Day enjoyment:

Environmental Stewardship:

Rick Santorum made headlines earlier in the election cycle when he declared that President Obama was promoting “[the] idea that man is here to serve the earth.” Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Americans, however, believe that God gave human beings the task of living responsibly with the animals, plants, and resources of the planet, while 36% disagree, saying that God gave human beings the right to use animals, plans, and all the resources of the planet for human benefit. Majorities of all religious groups agree with the first statement, including 64% of Catholics, 59% of white mainline Protestants, 56% of black Protestants, and 54% of white evangelical Protestants.

Climate Change:

Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Americans say that there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, compared to only 26% who disagree. Among those who believe the earth is getting warmer, nearly two-thirds (64%) believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Only 4-in-10 Americans believe that scientists generally agree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity. Nearly as many (37%) say the scientific community is divided, and 15% believe scientists generally disagree that humans are causing temperatures on earth to rise.

  • Strong majorities of every religious group say that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer, including 7-in-10 Catholics and the¬†unaffiliated, 63% of white mainline Protestants, and 57% of white evangelicals.
  • Among those who believe that earth is getting warmer, fewer white evangelicals believe that the changes are caused by human activity than members of other religious denominations.
  • White evangelicals (27%) and white mainline Protestants (32%) are also much less likely to agree that there is scientific consensus on the causes of climate change than black Protestants (47%), Catholics (48%) or the unaffiliated (43%).

Environmental Policy:

When asked whether they would favor tougher laws and regulations to protect the environment, even if it raises prices or costs jobs, strong majorities of Jewish Americans (69%), the religiously unaffiliated (63%), white mainline Protestants (60%) and Catholics (59%) agree. Fewer than half of black Protestants (48%) and white evangelical Protestants (42%) favor tougher environmental regulations. Around half (52%) of college-age Millennials (age 18-24) agree.

Natural Disasters:

Are recent earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters a sign from God, evidence of what the Bible calls the “end times,” or the result of global climate change? Fewer than 4-in-10 (38%) Americans believe earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God. Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans say that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change; by contrast, 44% say that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of what the Bible calls the “end times.” They differ, however, by religious background:

  • However, nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white evangelicals also believe that natural disasters are a sign from God. Only about one-third of Catholics (31%) and white mainline Protestants (34%) believe natural disasters are a sign from God.
  • Among white evangelicals, 67%¬†believe that natural disasters are evidence of what the Bible calls the “end times,” compared to 52% who see it as evidence of global climate change. By contrast, only 3-in-10 (30%) of white mainline Protestants and 34% of Catholics believe that recent natural disasters point to the “end times.”

For more  on climate change, evolution, and the 2012 elections, check out our survey from September 2011.