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Most Americans say climate change should be addressed now — CBS News poll

Meteorologist discusses climate change & extreme weather

A majority of Americans think action needs to be taken right now to address climate change. Most consider it at least to be a serious problem — including more than a quarter who say it is a crisis. Seven in 10 think human activity contributes a lot or some to climate change, and most feel they have a personal responsibility to do something about it, although many say they cannot afford to.

Opinions on the subject are marked by partisan divisions.

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Most – 67% - think humans can do something about climate change – though more say we can only slow climate change (48%) than believe we can stop it entirely (19%). Those who believe humans don't contribute much to climate change are less likely to think humanity can do something about it.

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Roughly a third of Americans do not think climate change needs to be addressed soon. When asked why, the top reason they choose is that climate change is being exaggerated (39%), followed by "there's really nothing we can do about it" (26%).

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Nearly all Americans (91%) think the earth is experiencing climate change in some way, even if there is disagreement on whether the primary cause is human activity or natural patterns. Only 9% believe climate change is not happening.

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Even if some don't believe human activity is the primary cause, most Americans do believe it contributes at least somewhat to climate change. 

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Few Americans — just 1 in 10 — say humans do not contribute at all to climate change. Among this small group, most think the idea that human activity causes climate change is a lie or hoax meant to make people think the issue is more serious than it really is.

There is also a split in opinions about the consensus of scientific evidence regarding climate change. Fifty-two percent of Americans think almost all climate scientists agree that human activity is a main cause of climate change, while 48% say there is still disagreement among scientists about whether human activity is a main cause.

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About 8 in 10 Americans trust scientists a lot or some on climate change, but just as many trust their own observations about the environment.  Most have a lot or some trust in their local weather forecasters and meteorologists.

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Fewer trust the mainstream news media and U.S. government agencies for information on climate change.

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Political divisions

There are partisan divides on many views regarding climate change, including its cause and the level of urgency it requires.

Large majorities of Democrats think humans contribute a lot to climate change and that people need to act now, while Republicans are more skeptical about the degree to which human activity contributes to it, and think the issue is less urgent.

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Republicans don't think the issue of climate change is as pressing as Democrats do. Democrats are nearly three times as likely as Republicans to think people have to act on climate change now.

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Opinions on how much humans contribute to climate change are related to views on what, if anything, can be done about it.

There are partisan splits on views of climate science. Three in four Democrats say almost all scientists agree that human activity is a main cause of climate change, while nearly the same number of Republicans think there is still disagreement among scientists.

Also, Republicans have a lower level of trust in scientists when it comes to information about climate change than Democrats do.

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The U.S. and international cooperation

A recent United Nations report saying there was strong risk of an environmental crisis by 2040 if climate change wasn't addressed. This has increased the concern of some Americans. About a third say they are more concerned. Most Democrats are more concerned, while Republicans and independents are less impacted by the report. Overall, more Democrats say they have trust in climate information from the United Nations than Republicans or independents say they do.

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Views on the kind of role the U.S. should have in preventing climate change are driven largely by partisanship. Seventy-two percent of Democrats think the U.S. should take the lead on climate change, but just 23% of Republicans (who are less likely to see climate change as a problem) think that. Most Republicans say the U.S. should either take part only if other countries are doing the same or not participate at all in international efforts to prevent climate change.

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There is more partisan agreement on some specific proposals to help lessen any changes in the Earth's climate. Americans, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, favor preserving and replenishing forests and wetlands (90%), manufacturing more fuel-efficient cars (82%), moving toward renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar (81%), promoting awareness and direct action by people (80%), and international agreements to reduce carbon emissions (77%).

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Renewable energy vs. fossil fuels

Most Americans (67%) think increasing production of renewable energy is more likely to create jobs in their local area than increasing production of fossil fuels. Most Republicans differ with the majority of Democrats and independents on this: 55% see more job prospects in increasing production of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and gas.

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Many Republicans question the motives of those who want to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the name of climate change. About half of Republicans say people who hold this view want to damage these industries for political reasons.

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Americans are split on whether the U.S. could transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, although 38% think it's realistic. Most Democrats (54%) and those who say we need to act on climate change now think this is a realistic goal.  But Republicans (54%) and Americans who don't see climate change as a pressing issue think this is unrealistic.

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Many of the proposals that may help reduce changes in the Earth's climate asked about in this poll receive bipartisan support, but taxing emissions of carbon-based fuels such as coal, oil, and gas does not. Most Republicans (63%) oppose this idea as a way to reduce climate change.

What can people do?

Most Americans think they have a personal responsibility to do something about climate change, even if it's in a small way. This is especially the case among those who think humans are a large contributor to climate change and those who think people need to act now.

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Nearly half of Americans (46%) do things in their own life to help the environment even if it costs time and money. While doing things to protect the environment is important to many Americans, it may be a struggle for some. Thirty-seven percent say it's important they do things to protect the environment but say they don't have the time or money to do them right now. Americans with lower incomes are more likely than those earning more to say protecting the environment is important but they don't have the time or money now to help.

There are partisan divides here too.  Democrats — who see climate change as a more pressing issue — are more likely than either Republicans or independents to feel they have a personal responsibility to help and to do something, even if it costs time and money.

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Large percentages of Americans say they are willing to do a number of specific things in order to help the environment, such as recycle more (87%), use energy efficient light bulbs (86%), give up plastic bags at stores (77%), and give up plastic straws (70%). Most are also willing to drive less often (62%) and travel less (58%), but few would be willing to give up eating meat (31%).

Most people say they are willing to implement all of these personal changes with the exception of giving up meat. Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to be willing to do many of these things.

This CBS News Poll is being released as part of Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of more than 250 news outlets around the world providing in-depth coverage of the climate story.


The CBS News survey is conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,143 U.S. residents interviewed between September 6 and 10, 2019. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 presidential vote and registration status. The margin of error is 2.2 pts. 

Poll toplines

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