Most U.S. adults — including a solid majority of those identifying as Christians and large numbers of people who follow other major religious traditions — consider the Earth sacred and believe God gave humans a duty to care for its oceans, forests and breathable air, according to a new survey.
That view doesn’t necessarily translate to an active role in limiting climate change, however. And while politics can explain the bulk of the reason, there are other factors at work.
A Pew Research Center survey out Thursday finds that highly religious Americans (those who say they pray each day, regularly attend religious services and consider religion very important in their lives) are far less likely than other U.S. adults to express concern about warming temperatures around the globe.
That’s even as 2021 went into the books as one of the hottest years on record and featured scorched Western states and a deadly and expensive Hurricane Ida in populous Northeastern states, a storm whose huge water absorption can be pinned on warmer oceans.
And now, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information’s Global Annual Temperature Outlook, there is a greater than 99% chance that 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record. The scientific community broadly argues that absent a slowing of global warming, lethal acidic oceans will erase a major food source, coastlines will further erode driving up insurance costs, and health concerns like respiratory issues will worsen.
The Pew survey reveals several reasons why religious Americans tend to be less concerned about climate change. First and foremost: politics: The main driver of U.S. public opinion about the climate is political party, not religion.
Highly religious Americans are more inclined than others to identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and Republicans tend to be much less likely than Democrats to believe that human activity (such as burning fossil fuels
to heat and cool homes, ship in-demand goods, or take to the country’s vast highway system) is warming the Earth. And, most of these respondents, even those tying humans to climate change, do not necessarily believe that climate change ranks as a serious problem, Pew said.
“ The main driver of U.S. public opinion about the climate is political party, not religion. ”
— Pew Research Center
Other research has shown shifting conviction among Republican voters in understanding climate change and wanting conditional government intervention coupled with private-sector innovation to slow global warming. But a majority wants a go-slow approach that keeps, for instance, natural gas
in an energy mix that also features no- or low-emission wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen and other technologies
like allowing oil and gas producers to capture and store carbon. How Republicans feel about climate change also depends on their age, separate research shows.
‘Much bigger problems’
Christians, and religiously affiliated Americans more broadly, are not united in their views about climate change. While majorities of all the large U.S. Christian subgroups say they think global climate change is at least a somewhat serious problem, there are substantial differences in the shares who consider it an extremely or very serious problem — ranging from 68% of adults who identify with the historically Black Protestant tradition to 34% of evangelical Protestants. And half or fewer people surveyed in all major Protestant traditions say the Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity, including 32% of evangelicals.
Read: More and more right-leaning Americans worry about climate change, but aren’t ready to give up gas stoves
Religious Americans who express little or no concern about climate change also give a variety of other explanations for their views, including that “there are much bigger problems in the world today,” that “God is in control of the climate,” and that they “do not believe the climate actually is changing.”
In addition, many religious Americans voice concerns about the potential consequences of environmental regulations, such as a loss of individual freedoms, fewer jobs or higher energy prices.
Meanwhile, people who are less religious tend to be more concerned about the consequences of global warming. For example, religiously unaffiliated adults — those who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” — are much more likely to say climate change is an extremely or very serious problem (70%) than are religiously affiliated Americans as a whole (52%).
And people who have a low level of religious commitment are much more likely than those with medium or high levels of religious commitment to be concerned about climate change. Most highly religious Americans see climate change as at least a somewhat serious problem, but fewer than half (42%) say it is an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 72% of the least religious adults.
<div data-layout="inline " data-layout-mobile="" class=" media-object type-InsetPullQuote inline scope-web