The data are still striking, suggesting that U.S. concern about climate change has leapt by several points in just the past year. More than seven out of 10 Americans now say that global warming is “personally important” to them, an increase of nine points since March 2018, according to the Yale poll. More Americans than ever—29 percent—also say they are “very worried” about climate change, an eight-point increase.
Read: How I talk to my daughter about climate change
These changes are basically unprecedented. “We’ve not seen anything like that in the 10 years we’ve been conducting the study,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, a senior research scientist at Yale who helped oversee the poll.
It reflects a large shift, as an outright majority of Americans—a record-high number—believe that climate change could endanger their loved ones. Historically, most Americans have said that global warming “will harm people in the United States” while insisting that it would “not harm me, personally.” Now 57 percent of Americans say global warming will harm their neighbors, 56 percent say it will harm their family, and 49 percent say it will harm them personally.
These changes show up in both new polls. The AP survey found that seven out of 10 of Americans understand climate change is happening. Even more notable: A slim majority of Republicans—52 percent—understand that climate change is real. (The AP asked questions about “climate change,” while Yale polled about “global warming.” The difference in language didn’t seem to change how people replied.)
Climate change itself may be driving this remarkable shift. Nearly half of Americans say that the science supporting climate change is “more convincing” now than it was five years ago, the AP poll found. The vast majority cited “recent extreme weather events”—such as hurricanes, droughts, and heat waves—as especially persuasive.
Yet it’s not clear that Americans are willing to do anything about fighting climate change. Many economists support a carbon tax, a policy that makes polluters pay for emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Forty-four percent of Americans say they would support such a tax, according to the AP.
Americans become more supportive of a carbon tax, though, when they know where the money it collects will go. Sixty-seven percent of Americans would support a carbon tax if it were used to restore forests and wetlands. Majorities also endorse a tax that would support renewable-energy R&D or public-transit improvements. But even then, most people are not willing to spend much. Seventy percent say they would vote against a $10 monthly fee tacked on to their power bill. Forty percent would oppose a $1 monthly increase.
These results don’t lend themselves to straightforward answers about what actions to take next.
Recently, some oil companies and Washington elite have endorsed a deficit-neutral carbon fee, a type of carbon tax that regularly mails revenue collected back to every American as a check. The same proposal would also roll back Environmental Protection Agency rules. The AP poll found Americans were least supportive of this plan: Three out of four said they would oppose a carbon tax that “eases climate-related regulation,” and only half liked the idea of a monthly rebate.