TODAY’S STUDY: WHO WILL DO WHAT IN THE CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHT
Americans’ Actions to Limit Global Warming in November 2013
February 2014 (Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication)
A national survey conducted in November and December of 2013 investigated different types of climate and energy-related actions Americans are currently performing or willing to take. Consumer behavior has become an important way Americans express their values and concerns, leading at times to new products and services, creating and destroying markets, and influencing the policies and actions of companies large and small. As citizens, some Americans also express their values and concerns through their civic behavior, including contacting elected officials, signing petitions and joining issue-oriented groups. Most directly, all Americans make choices about how they use energy at home and on the road, and some people factor their concerns about climate change into these decisions. Lastly, the most fundamental action that some people take in response to climate change is to talk about it within their own social networks. In this report, we investigate key indicators of each of these four types of action.
More than one in four Americans has engaged in purposeful consumer activism in the past 12 months, by rewarding or punishing companies for their actions regarding global warming. Moreover, about half of all Americans say they intend to engage in this type of consumer activism in the next 12 months.
• Three in ten Americans (29%) say that, in the past 12 months, they have rewarded companies that are taking steps to reduce global warming by buying their products. About one in four (24%) report that in the past 12 months they have punished companies that are opposing steps to reduce global warming by not purchasing their products.
• One in five Americans (22%) took both actions in the past 12 months, whereas half (51%) did neither. About one in four (27%) did one or the other.
• About half of Americans (48%) say that they intend to engage in consumer activism over the next 12 months – rewarding companies by buying their products and/or punishing companies by not buying their products – based on whether or not companies have taken steps to reduce global warming.
Prior studies, including those focused on other national issues, have typically found that relatively few Americans directly engage the political system, other than voting during elections. Similarly, here we find that only 13 percent of Americans have contacted a government official about global warming in the past year. There does, however, appear to be substantial latent potential among the public for more civic behavior in response to the issue. For example, one in five intends to urge government officials to take action to reduce global warming over the next 12 months. Additionally, three in ten (29%) say they would be willing to join a campaign to “convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming.” The American public is also broadly receptive to engaging in civic actions if asked to do so by a person they “like and respect.” Specific findings include:
• About one in ten Americans (13%) has contacted a government official about global warming by letter, email, or phone over the past 12 months, a number that has remained essentially unchanged since 2010.
• Of those Americans who have contacted a government official about global warming in the past 12 months, three in four (73%) urged them to take action to reduce global warming. This proportion has been essentially stable since November 2011 (73% in November 2013 compared to 76% in November 2011), with the exception of one anomalously high rate (89%) in September 2012.
• About one in five Americans (18%) intends to urge government officials to take action to reduce global warming over the next 12 months, a number that has remained essentially unchanged since November 2011.
• One in three Americans (36%) say that they have joined, or would be willing to join, a campaign to convince elected officials to pass laws increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.
• Three in ten Americans (29%) say that they have joined, or would be willing to join, a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming.
• One in four Americans would support an organization engaging in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse (24%), and about one in six (17%) say they would personally engage in such activities.
• About half of Americans (53%) say they would “definitely” or “probably” sign a petition about global warming if asked by a person they “like and respect.” About four in ten say that, if asked, they would sign a pledge to vote only for political candidates that share their views on global warming (39%), attend a neighborhood meeting to discuss global warming and actions people can take (38%), or attend a public meeting or presentation about global warming (38%).
• One in four Americans (26%) say they “often” or “occasionally” discuss global warming with family or friends. This marks a significant decrease from November 2011, when three in ten (31%) reported discussing global warming often or occasionally.!
Civic Behavior and Global Warming’s Six Americas
As in prior waves, the Alarmed are much more likely to be taking action to reduce global warming. Specific findings include:
• Alone among the Six Americas, in the past 12 months a majority of the Alarmed have rewarded companies that are taking steps to reduce global warming by buying their products (67%) or punished companies that oppose steps to reduce global warming by not buying their products (64%).
• Moreover, the Alarmed are unique in their level of communication with family and friends about global warming – three in four (76%) say they discuss it “often” or “occasionally.” Large majorities within the other groups comprising the Six Americas say they discuss the subject only “rarely” or “never.”
• Much larger proportions of the Alarmed and Concerned than the other groups have joined or would join a campaign to convince elected officials to pass laws increasing energy efficiency (79% and 48% respectively) or to take action to reduce global warming (75% and 33% respectively).
• A much larger proportion of the Alarmed than other groups (40%) have contacted government officials about global warming in the past 12 months.
Household and Transportation Behavior
With the exception of using energy-efficient compact florescent light bulbs – which has become the norm – the number of Americans who are taking a variety of energy saving actions at home and on the road has remained relatively stable over the past five years. Specific findings include:
• Nearly half of Americans say they “always” or “often” set their thermostat no higher than 68 degrees during the winter (46%). However, this action has been less common since November of 2008 (62%)
• The proportion of Americans who say they “always” or “often” walk or bike instead of driving is 11%, as is the proportion who use public transportation or carpool.
• Use of compact fluorescent light bulbs has plateaued over the past several years, with 53 percent now reporting that most or all of the light bulbs in their home are CFLs – up from 40 percent in November 2008.
• The minority of Americans (39%) who say that only “some” or fewer of their current light bulbs are CFLs are evenly divided with regard to their future lighting plans: one in four (23%) say they will probably change most of their bulbs to CFLs in the next twelve months; one in four (24%) say they would like to, but probably won’t; one in four (27%) express no desire to convert most of their light bulbs to CFLs; and one in four (26%) say they “don’t know” if they will convert.