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How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps


Americans overwhelmingly believe that global warming is happening, and that carbon emissions should be scaled back. But fewer are sure that the changes will harm them personally. New data released by Yale researchers gives the most detailed view yet of public opinion on global warming.

Americans want to restrict carbon

emissions from coal power plants.

The White House and Congress

may do the opposite.

Percentage of adults per congressional district who

support strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants

A majority of adults in every congressional district in the nation support limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. But many Republicans in Congress (and some Democrats) agree with President Trump, who this week may move to kill an Obama administration plan that would have scaled back the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationally, about seven in 10 Americans support regulating carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants – and 75 percent support regulating CO2 as a pollutant more generally. But lawmakers are unlikely to change direction soon.

Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, warned that committed activists — like the Tea Party — can shape politicians’ approaches to issues like climate change. “Those are the ones who can take you out at the next primary,” he said. He lost his primary in 2010 to Trey Gowdy, a Tea Party candidate who attacked his climate views.

Most people think that climate

change will harm Americans, but they

don’t think it will happen to them.

Percentage of adults per county who think …

Most people know climate change is happening, and a majority agree it is harming people in the United States. But they don't believe it will harm them.

Part of this is the problem of risk perception.

Global warming is precisely the kind of threat humans are awful at dealing with: a problem with enormous consequences over the long term, but little that is sharply visible on a personal level in the short term. Humans are hard-wired for quick fight-or-flight reactions in the face of an imminent threat, but not highly motivated to act against slow-moving and somewhat abstract problems, even if the challenges that they pose are ultimately dire.

Texas and Florida are vulnerable to

climate change, but residents are

split on how much to worry about it.

Percentage of adults per county who are

at least somewhat worried about global warming

In Florida, the effects of climate change, including sunny-day flooding, are being felt across the state. But the state shows a distinct north-south split in the level of concern over global warming, and it is not a simple Democrat-versus-Republican distinction, said State Representative Kristin D. Jacobs, a Democrat. Four southeast Florida counties — Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe and Palm Beach — stand out because of their concerted effort to work on climate issues together and to discuss it in nonpartisan terms.

Percentage of adults per county who are at least somewhat worried about global warming

South and West Texas, as well as the state’s Gulf Coast, are more worried about climate change than the rest of the state — and politics alone cannot explain it. South Texas favors Democrats, West Texas is decidedly more mixed, and the Gulf Coast in November 2016 was solid Trump territory.

One thing is shared by those disparate parts of the state: They have felt the brunt of shifting weather patterns, including rising temperatures, coastal hurricanes and western droughts so long and severe that some West Texas towns now recycle wastewater for drinking.

The state’s highest concentrations of Latinos can be found in the south and west, which may also partly explain the difference in climate views. Roberto Suro, a professor of public policy and journalism at the University of Southern California, suggested age as a possible factor. Latinos are “a young population with the median age significantly younger than the white population, and younger still than the African-American population,” he said, noting that young people have embraced climate science to a greater extent than their elders.

Everybody talks about the weather.

But climate? Only in some places.

Counties where adults discuss global warming at least occasionally

Just 33 percent of Americans surveyed said they discuss global warming at least occasionally with friends and family – and 31 percent said they never do. But there are distinct regional patterns.

In the American West, much of which has been affected by drought and wildfires, residents are more likely to talk about climate change. New England states, and not just the liberals of Massachusetts and Vermont, talk more about climate, as well, along with coastal South Carolina, which lies in the path of many hurricanes.

But aside from Southeast Florida, which has put so much effort into making discussion of climate change a priority, much of the rest of the Atlantic Coast is less likely to engage in climate discussions, despite recent increases in tidal flooding.

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