Poll Finds Many Americans Willing to Take Climate Action, But Few Do

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for ODP

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

A new report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication suggests that there is a gulf between the fear Americans feel about climate change and what they are willing to do to fight it.

  • Data reveals that about half of Americans said they would sign a petition about global warming, but only 15% said they have done so at least once in the past year.
  • Meanwhile, about 30% of Americans say they are “definitely” or “probably” willing to join a campaign to get elected officials to act to reduce global warming, but only 1% of Americans say they are currently participating in this kind of effort.

Why This Matters: This study is in line with other analyses showing that while Americans will tell a pollster they’re concerned about climate change, it’s not necessarily a voting or lifestyle priority. A Gallup poll released in September 2020 found that 55% of the public found climate change either very important or extremely important, a small percentage in relationship with voters’ concerns about foreign affairs (74%), immigration (65%), or abortion (61%). A Pew poll conducted around the same time suggested that voters ranked climate 11th out of 12 issues. 

As Yale explained, “Overall, these findings have important practical implications for climate change communication. Although Americans are increasingly convinced that climate change is a serious problem that requires large-scale action, relatively few are demanding that leaders act.” More effective communication could help Americans turn their concern into tangible action. 

Harnessing the Power of the “Alarmed”

The report split the population into six groups, with different levels of fear about climate change: the “Alarmed” (24%), the “Concerned” (30%), the “Cautious” (19%), the “Disengaged” (5%), the “Doubtful” (12%), and the “Dismissive” (10%).

From there, the researchers identified three groups within the “Alarmed:” the Active (34%), Willing (46%), and Inactive (20%). The report emphasizes that mobilizing the “Willing Alarmed” and the “Inactive Alarmed” could be a productive mode of inspiring climate action.

While just 17% are participating in a campaign to fight climate change now, but an additional 77% say they are willing to— leaving a great opportunity to train and deploy these willing individuals. 

The “Inactive Alarmed,” are fearful about the state of climate change, but unlike their “Active” counterparts, believe that there is not a lot they can do about it, particularly in influencing the actions of the federal and state governments. This offers a path forward for climate advocacy groups to inspire these individuals with the potential of collective action. 

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