Oct 4, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Survey: Religion and race shape views on cause of climate change

Data: PRRI; Chart: Axios Visuals

Religion and race shape views on whether climate change is caused by human activities — with less than a third of white evangelicals saying it's driven by people, according to a new survey.

Why it matters: There's virtually no debate among scientists over what is causing climate change.

  • Persistent divisions on climate change's causes threaten to make political consensus on action impossible to reach.

The big picture: Nearly everyone in the U.S. experienced hotter temperatures driven by human-caused climate change this summer, according to a new Climate Central analysis.

Zoom in: Three-fourths of Hispanic Catholics and all religiously unaffiliated Americans (76%) believe climate change is caused by human activity, a survey released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found.

  • But less than half of Latter-day Saints believe climate change is caused by human activity (48%), and just three in 10 white evangelical Protestants (31%) believe so.
  • A slim majority of white Catholics (56%) and white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants (54%) say climate change is human-caused.
  • Meanwhile, most Americans (61%) believe climate change is caused mainly by human activity such as burning fossil fuels.

The intrigue: More than eight in 10 Democrats (83%) say climate change is caused by humans, compared to 64% of independents and 28% of Republicans.

  • Republicans are more likely than independents and Democrats to believe that climate change is caused by "natural patterns in the Earth's environment" — 50%, 28% and 12%, respectively.
  • 35% of Americans agree that the severity of recent climate disasters is evidence that we are in what the Bible calls "the end of times," compared to 63% who disagree.

Between the lines: 19% of white evangelical Protestants say there is no evidence that climate change is happening — the largest percentage of any religious group in the survey.

Reality check: This year is expected to be the warmest on record globally, driven by the combination of an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean and human-caused global warming, Axios' Andrew Freedman has reported.

  • The summer was the warmest such season on record, with July becoming the warmest month of any month in instrument data.
  • Next year is expected to be even warmer.
  • Longstanding climate research has shown the central role played by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in driving an increase in global temperatures.

Between the lines: Despite their growth, Hispanics — especially Catholics — are severely underrepresented in most state and federal elected offices.

What they're saying: "A lot of white evangelicals believe that the second coming could be imminent so why bother with fighting climate change," Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan chairman in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, tells Axios

  • Chesnut said there's a whole industry of books, films and lectures interpreting wars and natural disasters as signs of the End Times while dismissing science.

Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical climate scientist at Texas Tech and chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, tells Axios nothing in the Bible gives an excuse not to believe that climate change is caused by humans.

  • "For many people, their identity is written, first of all, by their politics and their ideology, and only a distance second by their theology," she said.

Methodology: The Faith Factor in Climate Change survey was conducted online between June 8-28. The poll is based on a representative sample of 5,192 adults (age 18 and older) living in all 50 states who are part of Ipsos' Knowledge Panel®.

  • The margin of sampling error is +/- 1.62 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample.
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