71% of Americans believe the climate crisis is harming people now, poll shows

A large majority of Americans – 71% – believe the climate crisis is causing at least some harm to people in the US, while slightly less than two-thirds of the population believe harmful climate impacts will get worse over their lifetimes, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The poll shows Americans have a “dim view” on how climate change is impacting the nation, said Alec Tyson, associate director of science and society at the Pew Research Center and a lead pollster on the report.

While Pew has done polling in the past on how Americans view climate change policy and solutions like wind and solar energy, this is the first time they took a hard look at Americans’ perception of the threat climate change may pose to their lives. The team surveyed 8,842 US adults online from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.

After a summer of extreme weather – like the deadly Southwestern heat wave and devastating Vermont floods – Tyson’s team wanted to examine whether the impacts were making an impression on the American public.

“What we wanted to do with this survey was to focus more on the perceived personal impacts to the country and folks’ own lives,” Tyson said, calling it Pew’s “most dedicated effort” to-date focusing on “what people think is going to happen in their own lives” when it comes to climate change.

Pew found nearly half of Americans expect to have to make minor sacrifices over the course of their lifetimes due to climate impacts, while around a quarter of Americans think they’ll have to make major sacrifices. Another 28% expect to make no sacrifices at all due to climate change. Tyson told CNN the Pew team didn’t specify what kinds of sacrifices qualified as major or minor.

The Pew survey found deep partisan divisions impact people’s perceptions of climate change; for instance, 86% of Democrats expect negative climate impacts to get worse during their lifetime, while just 37% of Republicans said the same.

“Nothing matters more than partisanship,” Tyson noted, adding that factors like age and geographical location weren’t as strong as partisan divides in influencing opinions on climate change. “Democrats foresee much greater negative impacts from climate (change) over the coming decade, Republicans not so much.”

Tyson and the team at Pew found that where people lived and what age they are also impacts how they view climate change. For instance, a majority of those polled nationally said they expected that coastal Florida, Southern California and the Southwest will become worse places to live over the next 30 years due to the effects of climate change.

About half of adults polled who live in the Western US said they expect climate change will make conditions in their region worse, compared to just 30% of Midwestern residents who said the same.

“Climate experts talk about how impacts may be more severe in some places than others; that concept seems to resonate with the public,” Tyson said. “That’s quite striking.”

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