Societal Factors and Views on Climate Change

May 7, 2012, 6:50 pm
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Perception of the seriousness of climate change by people with different incomes. Percentage of people with middle or lower income in various countries who believe that global warming is a “very serious” problem. After Pew Research Center 2009a.

We are all, to some degree, products of our environment. Consequently, national origin, education, gender, race, income, age, and religion influence our opinions about global climate change. The following sections examine each of these factors.

National Origin

People from various countries have different opinions about the risks of global climate change. At the extremes, people in Japan express the most concern about the problem, whereas people in the United States express the least. Indicators (such as lower unemployment benefits) suggest that Americans, relative to citizens of other developed countries, are risk takers and thus are less worried about long-term risks such as climate change. These indicators reflect a positive, “can-do” attitude where a person takes advantage of current opportunities rather than dwelling on negative potentialities. Unfortunately, this attitude does not cultivate a long term and a global perspective.

Countries such as France, Germany, and Japan— whose frontiers closed centuries ago, who have since weathered severe resource limitations, and who fought major wars on their soil in the twentieth century—have become more risk averse than the United States. In these countries, mitigation of global climate change is a central issue of several political parties.

Education, Gender, Race, Income, and Age

The belief that human activities are responsible for global warming generally increases with education. In the United States, 51% of respondents with college degrees hold this belief, whereas 45% of those without degrees do. An exception to this trend are people in the United States who identify themselves as Republicans: Only 19% of Republicans with college degrees believe that global warming is happening due to human activity, whereas 31% of those without college degrees do. [1]

Most polls indicate that females in the United States are slightly more likely than males to believe that human activities are responsible for global warming and to support greater expenditures on mitigating climate change. [2] Race does not appear to have a major effect on opinions about global climate in the United States, but there are differences among regions and communities. In particular, respondents from urban communities in the northeastern and western United States were more likely to believe that human activities are responsible for global warming. Belief that global warming is a very serious problem generally increases with income; this results in part from the relationship between income and education.

Public opinion about the causes of global warming also varies with age of the respondent. Young adults in the United States accept responsibility for global warming more readily than do older people: 54% for 18-to-29-year-olds versus 37% for people over 65. [1] Moreover, only 31% of 18-to-29-year-olds in the United States believe that reports about global warming are exaggerated, whereas 47% of those over 65 years old believe so. [3]


Religious tenets are open to many interpretations, and so are their applications to global climate change. For example, evangelicals (as a whole) are less likely to support measures for mitigating greenhouse gases than are members of other religious denominations, but most black and Hispanic evangelicals believe that global warming is extremely or very important; most white evangelicals believe that it is only somewhat, little, or not important; and the belief of the general populace lies somewhere in between.


Perception of climate change seriousness based on religious affiliation. Percentage of U.S. adults of different faiths who believe that global climate change will have disastrous effects if we do not act dramatically, based on the Baylor Religion Survey of 1700 people in fall 2007. After Grossman 2008.



[1] Pew Research Center (2008) A Deeper Partisan Divide over Global Warming. The Pew Research Center for the People&the Press,, accessed November 21, 2008.

[2] ecoAmerica (2008) The America Climate Values Survey, ecoAmerica, Washington, D.C.,

[3] Saad, L. (2009) Increased Number Think Global Warming is "Exaggerated". Gallup Poll,, accessed March 15, 2009.

This is an excerpt from the book Global Climate Change: Convergence of Disciplines by Dr. Arnold J. Bloom and taken from UCVerse of the University of California.

©2010 Sinauer Associates and UC Regents



Bloom, A. (2012). Societal Factors and Views on Climate Change. Retrieved from


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