We’re awestruck about Earth, unsure about global warming

But all that spiritual stargazing makes no difference in views about the facts of climate change and global warming, a new survey finds.

Just 5 percent of Americans thought climate change was the most important issue in the U.S. today. And religion was a major dividing point on how much -- or how little -- they think it’s a matter of concern, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

“We asked about spiritual measures such as being in awe of the universe, and you might think it would correlate with views about the universe. But, in fact, they have very little relationship,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducted the survey on U.S. adults’ attitudes toward climate change, environmental policy and science.

The survey found:

  • 70 percent of Americans said they “experience a connection to all life” every day or most days.
  • 69 percent said they “feel deep inner peace or harmony.”
  • 64 percent “feel a deep connection with nature and the Earth.”
  • 53 percent “feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe.”

Yet, when asked about global warming or climate change, the survey found three divisions.

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The largest group, dubbed the “Believers” (46 percent overall), said global warming is a fact and they lay the blame on human activity. They were most likely (74 percent) to be very or somewhat concerned about climate change.

Sympathizers (25 percent) saw the Earth as heating up. However, they attributed this to natural causes or said they were uncertain why global warming was happening. Fewer of them (42 percent) expressed concern about climate change.

Skeptics (26 percent overall) say “there is no solid evidence” of the Earth’s temperature rising in recent decades. Neither does it worry them: 82 percent say they were somewhat or very unconcerned about climate change.

Religious identity was a greater marker of attitudes than general spirituality. Only 27 percent of white evangelical Protestants are climate change Believers, while 29 percent are Sympathizers and 39 percent are Skeptics.

Hearing about climate change from the pulpit made a difference, said Jones.

“Only about one in three Americans said they heard their clergy speak about it, often or sometimes,” Jones said.  “But, among those who did, 49 percent are climate change Believers.”

When asked their level of concern about climate change, members of minority religious groups were most likely to be somewhat or very concerned: Hispanic Catholics (73 percent), people unaffiliated with any religion (60 percent), black Protestants (58 percent), non-Christian religious (56 percent) and Jews (53 percent).

Concern dropped sharply among more conservative religious white people. The issue troubled only 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 41 percent of white Catholics and 43 percent of white mainline Protestants.

Researchers pushed the skeptics for the reason why they have doubts about global warming:

  • 33 percent said “they have not noticed a change in the weather around them.” One typical reply, “I live in Chicago and it’s cold as hell.”
  • 18 percent said temperatures rise naturally.
  • 12 percent saw conflicting or insufficient evidence.

Only 2 percent said God was in control.

PRRI found a small growth in the number of Americans who said natural disasters are evidence of the biblical end times or apocalypse. In 2011, 44 percent of Americans said the severity of recent natural disasters is a sign of the biblical end times. Today, 49 percent hold that view.

The survey, released Saturday at the American Academy of Religion conference, is based on 3,022 interviews with U.S. adults conducted in English and Spanish between Sept. 18 and Oct. 8. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.


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