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56% of Americans Cite Climate as Top Concern as Anxiety Crosses Party Lines

Mark Dixon/Wikipedia Commons

More than half of Americans see climate change as the most important issue facing society today, according to a December, 2019 Harris poll released this week by the American Psychological Association.

But while 56% of respondents put climate at the top of their priority issues list, the APA says [1] in a release, 40% haven’t responded with any changes in their own behaviours, and 51% say they wouldn’t know where to start. Seven in 10 say they wish there were more they could do to combat the climate crisis, and “as the [U.S. federal] election race heats up, 62% say they are willing to vote for a candidate because of his or her position on climate change.”

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The poll tracked rising levels of eco-anxiety, with 68% of adults admitting to feeling at least a bit worried about climate change and its effects. “These effects may be disproportionately having an impact on the country’s youngest adults,” the APA says. “Nearly half of those age 18-34 (47%) say the stress they feel about climate change affects their daily lives.”

Among the changes respondents were willing to make right now, waste reduction polled very well (89%), followed by making homes more energy efficient (81%). Changes in commuting habits (switching from personal cars to carpooling, transit, or bikes) and diet polled somewhat lower, at 67% and 62%, respectively.

The poll also looped back with the respondents who had taken action to reduce their carbon footprint and asked why they hadn’t done more. Just over one-quarter said they lacked the time, money, or skills to make additional changes. “The most common motivations for behaviour changes among those who have taken action to reduce their contribution to climate change are wanting to preserve the planet for future generations (52%), followed by hearing about climate change and its impacts in the news (43%).”

Other recent opinion polling in the U.S. reinforces the significant increase in public concern about the impacts of climate change, and in the expectation that policy-makers will make climate action a priority. And the change of mindset is increasingly crossing party lines.

Last July, a Pew poll found 57% of Americans agreeing with the statement that “global climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the United States,” reports [3] Solar Tribune. That finding marked “a 17-point increase in the share of Americans who agreed with that statement in 2013.”

While most of the shift occurred among Democrats, with climate concern rising 30 points among liberal Democrats and 21 points among moderates, the poll also pointed to increases of nine points among moderate/liberal Republicans and five points among conservatives. That finding was important, Solar Tribune adds, because “the sooner climate change stops being a partisan issue, the sooner bipartisan progress can be achieved on the most pressing issue of our time.”

Then in October, 66% of respondents to another poll told Pew the U.S. government “is doing too little to reduce effects of global climate change”, while 77% saw the development of carbon-free energy sources as the “most important priority for U.S. energy supply”. Pew found an overwhelming 92%, including 96% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans, supported more solar farm construction. A mere 22% were similarly open to expanding fossil fuels.

The proportion of homeowners giving serious thought to installing solar panels on their own roofs hit 46%, a dramatic gain from just 6% in 2016.

“Americans know the urgency with which we must act to reverse the effects of climate change and they know what can get us there,” Solar Tribune concludes. “It’s high time for Americans politicians to reflect this clear will of the people.”