Feb 28, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Hardly anyone talks about climate change

illustration of a polar bear on an ice cap in the shape of a thought bubble
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Politicians, corporations, the media and activists are talking about climate change more than ever — but most Americans are not.

Be smart: If you’re reading this on social media, you’re probably the exception, not the rule. Just 9% of Americans talk about climate change often, surveys by Yale and George Mason University indicate.

Why it matters: What people talk about is what ultimately rises as a priority among the public, says Anthony Leiserowitz, senior research scientist and director of Yale's Program on Climate Change Communication.

Data: Climate Change in the American Mind survey, 2008 to 2019; Note: Each survey is of approximately 1,000 U.S. adults, with an average margin of error of ±3 percentage points; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Climate Change in the American Mind survey, 2008 to 2019; Note: Each survey is of approximately 1,000 U.S. adults, with an average margin of error of ±3 percentage points; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

By the numbers: More than half — 59% — of Americans talk about climate change with their family or friends "rarely" or "never," according to the surveys. That figure has more or less remained unchanged for a dozen years. As of late last year, it’s still at 59%.

  • About 40% of people say they talk about climate change “often” or “occasionally,” a figure that also remained mostly the same over the last 12 years.
  • The share of people talking about climate change “often” has almost doubled, though it’s still small: from 5% to 9%.
  • These numbers remain small despite an increase in the share of people who say they hear about global warming in the media: 19% in March 2015, to 35% in November 2019.
  • For the record: The data on this topic has an average margin of error +/- 3 percentage points and each survey had around 1,000 participants.

Driving the news: The volume of climate change coverage on nightly and Sunday broadcast news shows increased 68% from 2018 to 2019, according to a report out Thursday by the liberal nonprofit Media Matters.

  • But the absolute numbers are tiny: Climate change comprised just 0.7% of overall broadcast news coverage last year, the report found.
  • Most Americans consume news on TV, so the deluge of online media many see — including those of you who found this article via social media — is not what most Americans are getting.
“The climate community lives inside a green bubble, inside a green bubble, inside a green bubble. We see news articles about climate change every day. But that’s not the experience of most people, most of the time.”
— Anthony Leiserowitz

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