Most suburban residents believe climate change is happening, but fewer worry about it, study shows – Daily Herald
The majority of Chicago’s suburban residents believe that climate change is happening. But fewer people are actually worried about the phenomenon, and even fewer believe that global warming will harm them personally, according to a study out of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
The study, conducted last fall and released in February, looks at opinions on climate change across the nation. It includes data as local as individual counties and congressional districts, allowing people to click around a map and discover, for instance, that 52% of Cook County residents say they have experienced climate change, compared to only 40% of McHenry County residents.
The wide range of opinions that were explored cover beliefs such as whether global warming is human-caused, risk perceptions such as whether global warming will harm future generations, and policy support such as if schools should teach about global warming.
“There is only so much you can do at the federal level,” Yale research scientist Jennifer Marlon said. “Because the impacts of climate change — and also the solutions — happen locally in our schools and our business, people were calling us and saying, ‘What can you tell us about our community?'”
In the Chicago area, the map tells us that 72% of residents and higher believe global warming is happening and 60% or more are worried about global warming.
Across counties, some of the most agreed-upon opinions concern policy: 77% of McHenry residents support funding research into renewable energy sources, compared to 79% of Kane County, 80% of Will, 83% of DuPage and 84% of Lake and Cook counties.
The suburban counties also generally believe that residents should do more to address global warming — even more than local officials and Congress. For instance, 72% of Cook County residents believe that individuals should take more action, while only 66% believe that local officials should take more action.
However, Chicago-area residents mirror the rest of the country in that those who do take action are in the minority: 31% of Will County residents “discuss global warming at least occasionally.” That number is 32% in McHenry County, 35% in Kane, 39% in DuPage, 40% in Lake and 42% in Cook.
“People are really concerned and they want action, but for some reason they’re not taking action,” said Scott Buckley, a co-leader of the Greater Naperville Area Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an environmental advocacy group.
Buckley said part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s focus is grassroots organization and the group frequently uses Yale’s data to better understand how Illinois residents feel about climate change.
“That’s our whole goal, is to somehow move people from being concerned about it and not doing anything to being concerned about it and working together in organizations and with the government to actually reduce carbon emissions,” Buckley said.
Buckley said a lot of the disconnect between concern and action stems from the fact that climate change is such a global issue and the impacts aren’t always felt close to home.
According to the study, most people in the Chicago area think global warming will harm people in developing countries. But less people think it will harm U.S. citizens, and even less think it will harm them personally.
Buckley said even the most concerned citizen can feel a sense of helplessness when faced with the vastness of the issue, but he added that small actions like reaching out to local, state and federal representatives can make a big difference.
Marlon, the researcher who leads the Yale program’s data science team and designed the opinions map, said the study helps bridge the gap between what people think their neighbors believe and what they actually believe.
“That gap means that people don’t talk about it. They think it’s going to cause problems or conflict,” Marlon said. “The reality is that when people understand that everyone is starting to care about this and everyone is getting worried, then it gives permission for business leaders and community leaders and politicians to go ahead and take more aggressive action.”
Marlon added that while a lot of people think there’s still widespread doubt and confusion about climate change, their survey data says the opposite is true.
“In fact, 58% of people are either concerned or alarmed now about this, and it’s been growing rapidly over the last few years,” she said.
In labeling people as “concerned” or “alarmed,” Marlon is referring to two out of six groups of people that the Yale program uses to help understand climate beliefs. From lowest belief in climate change to highest, the groups are dismissive, doubtful, disengaged, cautious, concerned and alarmed.
Over the last five years, the “alarmed” group has doubled in size, from 18% to 33% of the U.S. adult population. The “dismissive” group has decreased from 11% to 9%.
The Yale program doesn’t provide changes in belief over time locally yet, but nationally there has been an increase in the proportions of people who believe that climate change is happening, that it is human-caused and that there is a scientific consensus about the global phenomenon.
People can take Yale’s survey to see what group they fall into at tinyurl.com/SixAmericasSurvey.