Preaching to the choir? Ahead of encyclical, global warming worries Catholics more than other Christians

Will Pope Francis be preaching to the choir on climate change when he releases his ecology-focused encyclical later this year?

A new study released Thursday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that Catholics are more convinced than other Christians that global warming is occurring and are more supportive of policy action.

The survey, which polled 1,275 adults from Oct. 17-28, found that 70 percent of Catholics believed global warming is happening, as opposed to 57 percent of non-Catholic Christians -- a group that included people who self-identified as Baptist, Protestant, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon and other Christian faith. Two-thirds of all Americans polled acknowledge global warming.

Additionally, about half of Catholics detect that such warming is primarily human-caused (48 percent) and understand that a majority of scientists have concluded global warming is occurring, compared to 35 percent and 37 percent, respectively, for other Christians.

A Yale study earlier this month found that understanding of the scientific consensus on climate change -- that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is very likely due to human activities -- was an important “gateway belief” that influenced other views on climate change.

Given their higher awareness, it’s not surprising that Catholics -- a quarter of the U.S. population -- are also more worried about global warming, with about two-thirds somewhat or very worried, whereas less than half of other Christian denominations and 56 percent of all Americans described themselves as somewhat or very worried.

In the summer, the pope is is expected to address climate change as part of his encyclical on ecology and human ecology.

Francis has stated he has timed the teaching document’s publication, expected in June or July, so it can be discussed ahead of the United Nations climate change negotiations scheduled for December in Paris. At those meetings, world leaders could sign a binding agreement in which all nations commit to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

In a similar survey on climate change attitudes, conducted between Sept. 18 and Oct. 8, the Public Religion Research Institute found U.S. adults divided among three groups: believers (46 percent), who said global warming was a fact and human-caused; sympathizers (25 percent), who believed the earth was heating up but due to natural or unknown causes; and skeptics (26 percent), who saw no solid evidence of global warming.

For Catholics, PRRI found levels of concern more than 30 percent higher among Hispanic Catholics (73 percent) than white Catholics (41 percent).

Related: “Panel dissects ‘depressing’ climate change survey

As for addressing the climate issue, 81 percent of Catholics in the Yale study supported funding for solar and wind power and tax rebates for people purchasing energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels. Those same policies received support from 73 percent of non-Catholic Christians and roughly three-fourths of all Americans. 

A 16-percent gap existed between Catholics (69 percent) and other Christians (53 percent) on requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, even if it meant household bills increased $100 a year. Sixty-two percent of all Americans supported such a rule.

The survey had a margin for error of plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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