Climate change is increasingly front and center

More Americans express concern about climate change, but will that translate to large-scale change in the way we live and operate?

The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
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Today is the last day of COP26, the UN summit to hammer out an agreement between nations to slow the current pace of climate change.  Let’s face it—the planet is going to keep getting hotter, and extreme weather events more frequent.

How much so? That’s up to us as a global collective to figure out. Decisive action now could help spare us the worst of it. In short, there’s a lot riding on COP26.

But where does America stand on climate change? How urgent of an issue do we really think it is? In fact, as Ipsos polling underlines, a growing number of Americans do see it as one of the most pressing issues facing the country. But that hasn’t necessarily translated to tangible change. Most of us still drive to get where we need to go. Nor are we recycling or cutting down our energy or water use en masse

A review of some of our most recent U.S.-centric climate change polling data follows.

  1. Turning up the heat. Americans increasingly see climate change as a one of the most concerning problems facing the country. Consider the marked change from just eight years ago, when it was still very much a fringe issue. COVID distracted us in 2020 – as it did around so many other issues. Climate change is here to stay. Climate main issue


  2. Is climate change the new COVID? Another point – Americans now rank climate change as one of the top five issues facing the country, according to our Global Advisor What Worries the World tracking data. This puts it on par with issues like crime and immigration. Meanwhile, back in 2013, it barely scratched the surface. Could we conceivably one day see a presidential candidate win on climate change, just as COVID was central to President Biden’s 2020 victory? Not such a farfetched idea. Top 10 issues


  3. Perception is everything. Extreme weather looks different in different parts of the country. But Americans are taking note of the changing world around them, contingent on what part of the country they’re from. Reality is often inescapable. Extreme weather


  4. Change is half the battle – but is it enough? While many Americans now concede that climate change is real, the public is split in adopting mitigating behaviors. About two in five say they have changed their consumption habits due to concern about climate change; another two in five say they have not. Maybe too little, too late. Changing behavior


  5. Reduce, reuse, recycle. But what do those changes look like? In general, Americans are most likely to recycle, and cut electricity use and water consumption at home. They are also upcycling, purchasing fewer things, or reusing or fixing things they already have. Maybe too little too late. What Americans are doing now


So far, concern about climate change has been a lagging indicator. We see that shifting as Americans are increasingly confronted with extreme weather events.  When behavior meets reality, behavior changes.   This is the long view of our post-COVID world. The big question now is, can we change fast enough?

The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs