Feb 28, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Hardly anyone talks about climate change

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.

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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

Go deeper: Climate change is a ratings killer

Go deeper

South Carolina exit polls: Climate change slips as top priority vs. Iowa, New Hampshire

A voter in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

South Carolina's Democratic primary voters were less likely to list climate change as a top issue compared to previous nominating contests, according to the AP's VoteCast exit polls.

The big picture: Health care, climate change and the economy have been the top 3 issues in each primary to this point.

Big climate change policy unlikely no matter who wins the White House

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Don’t hold your breath for big climate policy changes — even if a Democrat wins the White House.

Why it matters: Congress is likely to remain gridlocked on the matter, leading to either more of the same with President Trump’s re-election or a regulatory swing back to the left no matter which Democrat wins — but far short of a legislative overhaul.

How climate change and wildlife influence the coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The good news is, climate change is not directly at play with the coronavirus. The bad news: we humans are still root drivers in pandemics like this one.

Driving the news: Buying, selling and consuming wild animals, such as at the Wuhan, China, market where this novel coronavirus is believed to have originated, is increasingly spreading deadly infectious diseases, experts say.

Go deeperArrowMar 27, 2020 - Science