Story at a glance

  • In 2014, the number of Americans who were “alarmed” by climate change was roughly the same as the number who were “dismissive” of the threat it posed.
  • Now, a new survey reveals the ranks of the alarmed have tripled in the last five years to comprise the single most prevalent attitude towards the climate crisis.
  • The group behind the study cited increasingly dire scientific reports, increased media coverage of climate change and extreme weather events close to home as potential reasons behind the shift.

More Americans are “alarmed” by climate change than ever before, according to a new study.

In the last five years, which contained all five of the hottest years on record on earth, the number of Americans who said they were alarmed by climate change has tripled to 31 percent.

And, for the first time, the amount of people “alarmed” by climate change outnumbered those who were “concerned.” The two groups combined to account for 57 percent of respondents.

In 2014, nearly the same number of Americans were alarmed as were “dismissive” of the threat posed by rising global temperatures. Now, the ranks of the dismissive have dwindled while those who are alarmed have grown dramatically.

The results of the study highlight a significant and rapid shift in public opinion on an issue scientists feared might never gain traction.

"The overall trend is a major shift in the political climate of climate change in this country, but in terms of (the 'alarmed') exerting its full political force, it is yet to do so because it is still relatively unorganized," Anthony Leiserowitz, who co-led the survey, told CNN.

Leiserowitz identified a few potential causes behind the survey results.

The first is the drumbeat of dire scientific reports, including the 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that showed humanity’s narrowing prospects at avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Media coverage of these studies has likely played a role as well, Leiserowitz said.

"The media as a whole, when it doesn't talk about the issue, the issue fades from public awareness and concern," he said.

Another year of extreme weather also may have affected many Americans directly, Leiserowitz added.

"These horrific, catastrophic disasters that Americans are experiencing right now need to be interpreted for people to really understand," he said. "And what we're seeing is that when many Americans see these things in their backyards or on their television screens, they're starting to ask, 'What the hell is going on with the weather?'"

Published on Jan 17, 2020