As Biden Heads to COP26, 41% of U.S. Adults Are ‘Very Concerned’ About Climate Change

Younger adults are particularly likely to express substantial concern

(Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice)

TAKING THE TEMPERATURE

This story is part of an ongoing series using data from Morning Consult’s “Taking the Temperature” project, launched in October 2021. It includes regularly updated climate concern and disaster concern trackers, broken down by party, race/ethnicity and generation, as well as a collection of stories based on other trended data on energy sources, fuel and electricity prices and more.

Overall concern about climate change from the U.S. public has remained relatively steady throughout the past five months, according to Morning Consult’s ongoing Taking the Temperature tracker. However, the share of adults who say they are “very concerned” appears to have waxed and waned as climate has figured prominently in the news — notably amid disaster season and with the unveiling of a major international report on the phenomenon. 

Tracking Climate Concern: All Adults

U.S. adults are asked in weekly surveys how concerned they are about climate change and its impacts

Weekly surveys are conducted among roughly 2,200 U.S. adults and have a margin of error of +/-2%.

What the numbers say

  • Since mid-July, the share of U.S. adults who say they are “very concerned” about climate change and its impacts has hovered above 40 percent, hitting a peak of 46 percent in the days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its dire assessment on the planet’s likelihood of reaching catastrophic levels of warming. The other peak of concern (Sept. 11) came less than a month later, in the days after Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc in New Orleans and up the East Coast. 
  • The share of U.S adults who say they are “not very concerned” or “not concerned at all” has remained fairly steady, rarely rising above 25 percent of the population when added together. 
Tracking Climate Concern: Demographics

Share of U.S. adults who are “very concerned” about climate change and its impacts, by demographic

Weekly surveys are conducted among roughly 2,200 U.S. adults (including roughly 2,000 registered voters) and have a margin of error of +/-2.

What the numbers say, by generation 

  • Gen Z adults, who will have to bear the consequences of their predecessors’ emissions decisions, are on average the most concerned about climate change, with the “very concerned” share hitting 52 percent twice since tracking began in May. Millennials showed similar levels of concern in some instances.
  • Meanwhile, Gen X is the least concerned across the board (though it should be noted that the margin of error for each group hovers between 4 and 7 percentage points).

Why these numbers matter

The contours of domestic climate policies — broadly and in the reconciliation bill in particular —  have recently proved controversial on the Hill, especially in light of pressure on congressional Democrats to pass something before COP26 begins on Sunday. That pressure is amped up by the fact that lawmakers have repeatedly dropped the ball on passing major climate legislation when presented with the opportunity in recent decades. 

But this push-and-pull is not borne out by equivalent controversy among lawmakers’ constituents. The fact that climate change is indeed happening and that it is cause for concern is consistently understood by majorities of the general public, the polling illustrates. And if the high levels of concern from the younger generation holds, the urgency of the issue will only grow as time passes and emissions continue to mount.

What else you should know

  • On average, white adults have been the least concerned about climate change compared to other races and ethnicities, according to the tracker.
  • The public’s concern about the impacts of disasters on their communities also peaked in late August and early September.
  • Voters of all parties are losing confidence in the United States’ ability to successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, which comes alongside a parallel drop in approval of how the Biden administration is handling the issue, the tracker also found.      

Data based on weekly surveys conducted among about 2,200 U.S. adults each, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points. The trackers will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Morning Consult