America’s Changing Attitudes on Climate Change

By Mark Drury, Senior Director of Communications


In the last five years, the number of Americans who describe themselves as “alarmed” (vs. “concerned” or “cautious”) over the challenges posed by our changing climate has doubled. So says a survey released by Yale University and George Mason University. For many years, public policy makers have considered the issue so large and amorphous that it was difficult for the electorate to grasp, so policy debates tended to ignore the issue or describe it as so distant into the future that there would be lots of time to act.

Public perception of that approach appears to be changing. But not as quickly as needed.

Source: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, 2019

Source: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, 2019

Increasingly, Americans are beginning to grasp the difference between climate and weather. Here in the southern U.S., heavier than normal rainfall totals have closed schools and raised concerns about flooding and crumbling infrastructure. We realize that rising sea levels along the coastal U.S. aren't the only problems caused by rising global temperatures. It's not a coincidence that California’s wildfire season is moving along a more destructive trajectory each year or that heavier-than-normal snowfalls are causing Midwestern communities to grind to a halt. The impact of changing climate can be felt across the U.S. International organizations have begun tracking “climate refugees” fleeing floods, windstorms or droughts. More than 26 million people around the world have fallen into this category annually since 2008.

At Calvert Street Group, we’ve been active in helping renewable energy companies locate and gain public approval for new solar arrays and wind turbines. Generating renewable energy close where people consume it means navigating land use issues and developing grassroots support. Carefully crafted messaging needs to be part of every energy company’s strategy. Our efforts have been utilized by some of the largest energy companies in the nation to help communities understand the need to allow greater investment in renewables.

Using the tools of the modern campaign, we’ve learned to reach people with mail, phones, face-to-face outreach, earned and social media to help communities understand the connection between growing renewable energy generation and mitigating the effects of a changing climate disrupting their lives. The number of Americans who described themselves as “dismissive” or “doubtful” about climate change is declining, but we can’t allow open opposition to shift into willful ignorance. Taking action against the effects of climate change begins by convincing communities there’s a problem and a solution.

Darden Copeland