Pope Francis is adding one more societal issue to his papal agenda: climate change. The Vatican will host a summit on climate change and sustainability efforts on Tuesday, April 28. Pope Francis is slated to address the U.N. General Assembly during his trip to the U.S. in September 2015. And the pope is also expected to release a lengthy edict on the environment, which will urge Catholics worldwide to take action on climate change. Many have speculated that the summit, UN address, and edict will all argue for the moral imperative of protecting the earth.
In the U.S., the pope may have his work cut out for him. PRRI’s climate change report finds that Catholics aren’t any more worried about climate change than Americans in general. But as he urges adherents to care for the planet, Pope Francis should focus his attention on one group of Catholics in particular: white Catholics, who report less concern with and exposure to the issue of climate change than their Hispanic counterparts.
Catholics hold the same opinion about the existence and cause of climate change as all Americans overall—49 percent of Catholics and 46 percent of Americans say the earth’s temperature is warming and it is primarily the result of human activity—but white Catholics are less likely than Hispanic Catholics to believe in human-caused climate change—40 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively. White Catholics are also less likely than Hispanic Catholics to say that scientists agree that global warming is a result of human activity—39 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively.
Catholics and Americans are also in agreement on the severity of climate change, but white Catholics are 20-percentage points less likely than Hispanic Catholics to say that climate change is a crisis or a major problem—53 percent vs. 73 percent, respectively. Hispanic Catholics are also more likely to specifically call climate change a “crisis”—28 percent vs. 16 percent.
Hispanic Catholics’ awareness of climate change and its impacts may come from more exposure to the issue in religious settings. Seventy percent of Hispanic Catholics report that that their clergy leader speaks about climate change often (22 percent) or sometimes (48 percent), which is roughly four times as much as what white Catholics report (5 percent often, 15 percent sometimes).
White Catholics are less likely to report that their congregation sponsors events—such as educational programs and group discussions—related to climate change. Only 15 percent of white Catholics say their church sponsors such events, compared to 44 percent of Hispanic Catholics.
For more public opinion research on climate change, read PRRI’s report, “Believers, Sympathizers, and Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science.”