The coronavirus crisis is on everyone’s mind, but people are still worried about climate change.
A new survey from researchers at Yale and George Mason University found that Americans’ understanding of, and concern about, global warming has equaled or beaten record highs. Its results contradict the idea that Americans’ acceptance of climate science and concern over climate change dropped during the Great Recession.
Almost three-fourths of people surveyed believe that climate change is happening, equal to what respondents said when the survey was conducted in 2019. 54% are “extremely” or “very” sure that it is happening, a record-high amount. Two-thirds said that global warming was “extremely, very or somewhat important to them personally.”
The study was conducted while much of the country was under shelter-in-place orders. Its results may contradict the “finite pool of worry” hypothesis, which suggests that when people become more worried about one issue—like their health or the economy—then they become less concerned with other issues. It’s also possible that climate change is now so important to people that even the pandemic can’t lessen that worry.
Conventional wisdom was that the Great Recession made fewer Americans believe in, let alone care about, climate change. However, researchers increasingly believe that the drop in concern that took place after the Recession was caused by climate change deniers’ political attacks.
Despite climate being less prevalent in news media during the pandemic, the survey shows that “the majority of Americans see climate change as a clear and present threat to the health of people in their community,” according to Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Climate change, like the virus, is “a threat that’s come home.”