Dec 5, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Religious Americans worried about climate change are diverse

Photo illustration collage of a stained glass church window surrounded by radiating window-shapes filled with a satellite image of Hurricane Wilma

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Highly religious Americans concerned about warming temperatures around the globe are racially and ethnically diverse, according to survey results from a recent Pew Research Center report.

The big picture: While few very religious Americans say they’re worried about climate change, people of color largely make up the share who do express concern. Experts say this is reflective of a hotly politicized issue — and a function of who is most burdened by the warming world.

By the numbers: Just 8% of U.S. adults are both highly religious and very concerned about climate change, the report found.

  • "Highly religious" is defined as those who say they pray every day, regularly attend religious services and consider religion very important in their lives.
  • 47% of respondents who are both highly religious and worried about climate change are white, 27% are Black, 18% are Hispanic and 5% are Asian.
  • Meanwhile, Americans who are very religious and not concerned about climate change are 79% white, 9% Black, 7% Hispanic and 2% Asian.

What they found: According to Pew Research Center senior researcher Becka Alper, who led the report, their findings emphasize that the main driver of U.S. public opinion about climate change is "political party, not religion."

  • They also found patterns that reveal political trends within religious groups, which the report describes as overlapping with "similar racial gaps between Democrats and Republicans."
  • "Highly religious Americans are more inclined than others to identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and Republicans tend to be much less likely than Democrats to believe that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, [are] warming the earth, or to consider climate change a serious problem," Alper tells Axios.

What they're saying: Nadia Ahmad, an associate environmental law professor at Barry University and co-chair of the Interfaith Council for the Democratic National Committee, says the racial and partisan divide between religious survey respondents is not a surprise.

  • "Because of historical inequities, frontline communities, whether they are Indigenous communities, poor people, or are those who are communities of color, have experienced both climate change and environmental toxicity and pollutions in more cognizant ways then those who are not," Ahmad said.
  • "They would be more exposed to pollution and toxicity and experience more of the adverse effects of climate change. And so their religious beliefs would correlate."

Of note: Nearly half of regular service attendees never hear climate change brought up from the pulpit in their places of worship, per the report.

  • A 2021 study in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that between 2014 and 2019, a bulk majority of U.S. Catholic bishops were 'silent' and 'denialist' in their messaging to parishioners about climate change and Pope Francis' encyclical.

Yes, but: A clear majority of members of historically Black Protestant churches, as well as most non-Christian religions, reported viewing climate change as an "extremely" or "very important" issue, while Evangelical Protestants are least likely to share those views, demonstrating an interfaith divide.

  • Black churches have a long history of engaging with issues like climate change in the fight for racial equality, says theological ethicist and Kansas’ Saint Paul School of Theology assistant professor Joshua Bartholomew.
  • "Black church folks have been leading this, they have been mobilizing around these things, even in politics," said Bartholomew. "Racism, poverty, environmental justice, these things are not separate issues. They're all interconnected."

The bottom line: "To ignore environmental concerns means to neglect the very thing that none of us can escape," Bartholomew said. "When preachers, when churches don't pay enough attention to it, I think it does their ministries a disservice."

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