Poll Finds Many Americans Willing to Take Climate Action, But Few Do

YPCCC research findings

A study from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) suggests there is a deep disconnect between what Americans say they are willing to do to address the climate crisis and what they are actually doing.

Why This Matters

This study is in line with other analyses showing that although Americans may tell a pollster they're concerned about climate change, it's not necessarily a priority when it comes to political inclination or lifestyle changes. A Gallup poll released in September 2020 found that 55% of the respondents found climate change either very important or extremely important -- a small percentage in relationship with voters’ concerns about foreign affairs (74%), immigration (65%), or abortion (61%). A Pew poll conducted around the same time suggested that voters ranked climate 11th out of 12 issues.

As the authors of YPCCC's study explain:

Overall, these findings have important practical implications for climate change communication. Although Americans are increasingly convinced that climate change is a serious problem that requires large-scale action, relatively few are demanding that leaders act.

More effective communication could help Americans turn their concerns into tangible action.

YPCCC: Alarmed (24% of the U.S. population), July 2021.

Harnessing the Power of the "Alarmed"

Researchers split the population into six groups according to their level of concern regarding climate change: the "Alarmed" (24%), the "Concerned" (30%), the "Cautious" (19%), the "Disengaged" (5%), the "Doubtful" (12%), and the "Dismissive" (10%).

From there, they identified three groups within the "Alarmed": the "Active" (34%), "Willing" (46%), and "Inactive" (20%). The report emphasizes that mobilizing the "Willing Alarmed" and the "Inactive Alarmed" could be a productive mode of inspiring climate action.

While just 17% are participating in a campaign to fight climate change now, an additional 77% say they are willing to -- leaving a great opportunity to train and deploy these willing individuals.

The "Inactive Alarmed" are fearful about the state of climate change, but unlike their "Active" counterparts, believe there is not much they can do about it, particularly when it comes to influencing the actions of the federal and state governments. This offers a path forward for climate advocacy groups to inspire these individuals with the potential of collective action

YPCCC: Global Warming's Six Americas, December 2020.

YPCCC: Global Warming's Six Americas Five-Year Trend, December 2020.

YPCCC: Who Are Global Warming's Six Americas?, February 12, 2018.