A new report, Public Perceptions of the Health Consequences of Global Warming, which analyzes results from our national survey conducted in October 2014, finds that Americans are generally unaware of the potential health consequences of global warming. Key findings include:
- Few Americans have thought much about the health consequences of global warming. Asked how often, if ever, before taking this survey they had thought about how global warming might affect people’s health, seven in 10 said they had given the issue little or no thought. Only one in 10 said they had given the issue a “great deal” of thought and only about two in 10 (22%) said they had thought about it a “moderate amount.”
- Few Americans are aware of any current health consequences of global warming. When asked “In your view, what health problems related to global warming are Americans experiencing, if any?” a majority either didn’t answer the question (43%) – which likely indicates they didn’t have an answer – or answered that they “don’t know” (14%). Only one in four (27%) named at least one health problem related to global warming, and 10% answered, incorrectly, that there are no health problems associated with global warming.
- Moreover, with the exception of respiratory problems including asthma and other lung diseases (14%) and illness, injury, and death caused by extreme weather (6%), fewer than 5% of Americans identified any of the other health consequences of global warming.
- When asked “Do you think some groups or types of Americans are more likely than other Americans to experience health problems related to global warming?” only one in three Americans (32%) answered, correctly, that some groups of Americans are more likely than others to have their health harmed by global warming; most survey participants are either “not sure” (45%) or said no group is at higher risk (23%).
- Only one in three Americans (31%) thinks global warming is currently harming the health of people in the U.S. a “great deal” or a “moderate amount,” while one in six thinks their own health (17%) or the health of others in their household (17%) is being harmed to that degree.
- Four in ten Americans (39%) think global warming will harm the health of people in the U.S. a “moderate amount” or “great deal” over the next five to 10 years, while nearly three in ten think their own health (27%) or the health of others in their household (28%) will be harmed over this time period.
- When asked if specific health problems will become more or less common over the next 10 years in their community due to global warming, more than one third of Americans think the following conditions will become more common: air pollution, including smog (38%); pollen-related allergies (38%); asthma/other lung diseases (37%); heat stroke (36%); and bodily harm from severe storms and/or hurricanes (34%).
- Few Americans are aware of the current or projected future health impacts of global warming worldwide. A plurality of Americans say they are not sure how many people worldwide are currently injured, made ill, or die each year – or will each year 50 years from now – as a result of global warming. Many others (21% to 33%) think no people will suffer health consequences from global warming, either now or in the future.
- By contrast, only 12 to 15 percent of Americans think that thousands or millions of people worldwide currently die or are sickened or injured due to global warming, and only 25 to 28 percent think that thousands or millions will die, be injured or made ill each year 50 years from now due to global warming.
- When asked whether certain government agencies or branches should do more or less to protect people from global warming-related health problems, nearly half of Americans think the following should do more: federal agencies such as the CDC, NIH, or FEMA (47%); the U.S. Congress (46%); and their state government (44%)
While more Americans support rather than oppose funding increases for government agencies to protect the public from health problems related to global warming, the largest group of Americans – approximately three in ten – has no opinion on this matter.
When asked whether they trust or distrust various sources of information about health problems related to global warming, Americans are most likely to say they trust: their primary-care doctor (49% trust him or her “strongly” or “moderately”); family/friends (41%); and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (41%). By contrast, Americans are least likely to trust religious leaders and U.S. military leaders on this subject.
These findings come from a nationally-representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Interview dates: October 17-28, 2014. Interviews: 1,275 Adults (18+). Total average margin of error: +/- 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the V.K. Rasmussen Foundation, and the National Science Foundation funded the research.