More than half (60 percent) of Americans believe that climate change is a result of human action such as deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, among other factors, according to the fifth annual Sense & Sustainability Study from Gibbs & Soell, the business communications firm with expertise in sustainability consulting.
Thirty percent of US adults are skeptical while 10 percent are unsure as to the impact of human activity on significant changes in temperature or precipitation over an extended period of time. Natural weather disasters are cited by more than half (57 percent) of Americans as highly influencing their opinions on climate change.
And for the third year in a row, the Sense & Sustainability Study finds that only about one in five US adults (21 percent) believes that the majority of businesses (“most,” “almost all,” or “all”) are committed to “going green.” This marks an increase as compared to the study’s first results five years ago, which found that a mere 16 percent of Americans believed that the majority of companies are dedicated to improving the health of the environment.
“The results speak to the importance of making big issues like climate change more personal and relatable,” says Ron Loch, senior vice president and managing director, sustainability consulting, Gibbs & Soell. “Even for those people not affected by an extreme weather event, news of hurricanes, droughts and blizzards evoke fear, concern and empathy. That’s why storytelling is so important when discussing issues of sustainability and social responsibility. It makes the larger problem more relevant and helps gain the kind of attention that can lead to understanding and meaningful action.”
Key findings include the following:
• Natural weather disasters significantly influence the formation of opinions about climate change among Americans (57 percent) and the three subgroups: believers (73 percent), skeptics (36 percent) and the unsure (30 percent). Media coverage of scientific research is also highly influential, cited by 46 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of believers, 25 percent of skeptics and 24 percent of the unsure. Among skeptics, a small yet substantial number (27 percent) say the opinions of family and trusted acquaintances are significantly influential.
• Water scarcity emerges as a significant cause of heightened concern for Americans (48 percent), as compared to five years ago. In isolating subgroups according to their attitudes about climate change, water scarcity is among the top three issues for believers (56 percent), skeptics (40 percent) and the unsure (22 percent). Among skeptics, a small yet substantial number (16 percent) point to climate change among issues that cause more concern now as compared to five years ago.
• The general public bears considerable responsibility for the well-being of people, communities and the environment, according to the majority of Americans (64 percent) and all three climate change subgroups: believers (71 percent), skeptics (56 percent) and the unsure (42 percent).
• In the area of general knowledge about environmental matters, Americans’ confidence continues to slip. In 2014, 55 percent say they feel well-informed about topics related to sustainability and the environment, as compared to 61 percent in 2012, when the question was first asked in the study.
• Access to information may hold a clue. More than half (59 percent) of U.S. adults say they often encounter information about businesses “going” green in the media they typically rely on for news. This number has declined as compared to when the question was first asked in the study in 2012, when 65 percent said they detected green business news in the media they regularly consumed.