Belief in Climate Change Increasing, but Sense of Urgency Lacking for Much of Population

A growing number of people in the United States believe that global warming is happening, however, the number of people who feel it is a threat to their well-being is still fairly low. According to a 2016 Yale Climate Opinion study, 70% of US residents believe climate change is happening. However, only 40% feel they will be directly harmed by climate change. Most American’s believe that climate change will harm developing countries (63%) and/or future generations (70%) Check out the full study here.

Most American’s do not see climate change as a risk to their everyday life and in turn do not have a sense of urgency to deal with climate change. Much of this lack of concern can be explained with by what is termed the “recency” effect. The most recent an event, the more likely it will be in the memory of an individual and will have the greatest impact on current and future decision making. More recently occurring and commonly occurring events are going to hold the most weight. If there has not been a recent event, such as a drought, wildfire, flood, hurricane, etc. then the threat of these events recede back in a person’s memory prompting less urgency to deal with these threats. Further, these severe weather events are still perceived to be one-off, rare events. Scientists have been reluctant to tie any specific weather event to climate change. For severe weather events to have a greater impact on one’s sense of risk related to climate change, then these weather events must become a part of a climate change narrative. The EPA has a nice explanation of how we can start making the connection between severe weather events and climate change. You can learn more about this linkage here.

climate change and extreme weather EPA
Source: EPA Climate Change Science



Published by

Gavin Dillingham

Program Director for Clean Energy Policy at HARC a sustainability research institute in The Woodlands, TX. Work on climate adaptation and investment strategies for resilient infrastructure.

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