Tech & Science

Being a Woman Affects How You Feel About Climate Change. So Does Being Catholic

Mother Earth Puppet Climate March
A puppet of Mother Earth looms over the New York City climate march. The puppet was made for El Puente, a Latino arts center in Brooklyn. Zoë Schlanger/Newsweek

When world leaders gather in three weeks in Paris to try to negotiate a climate change agreement, they’ll have three quarters of the global population behind them, according to the latest Pew poll of climate attitudes, published Thursday.

Globally, 78 percent of people back the idea that their respective countries should reduce emissions as part of an international agreement, Pew found. Of the 40 countries they surveyed, the majority of the population in all but one country (Pakistan) favored an emissions-reduction agreement. But that doesn’t mean everyone is equally convinced that climate change is a serious problem. Levels of concern vary significantly based on political affiliation, age, gender—and how likely it is that one’s country will be in the direct line of devastation from climate change in the near future.

Concern about Personal Toll of Climate Change Fear of being personally affected climate change varies substantially across the globe, but is highest in Latin America and certain countries in Africa. PEW RESEARCH CENTER/Spring 2015 Global Attitudes survey

Pew found that the more carbon dioxide a country tends to emit, the less worried its population tends to be about climate change. China and the U.S., for example, are the two largest greenhouse gas emitters. But while 54 percent of people globally say climate change is a serious problem, only 18 percent in China feel that way. In the U.S., 45 percent agree.

“Overall, people in countries with high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita tend to express less anxiety about climate change than those in nations with lower per capita emissions,” according to the report.

Similarly, countries like the U.K., Australia, Germany, and China are relatively unconcerned about climate change affecting them in their lifetimes; less than 20 percent in these countries worry about that. But in places like Uganda, Ghana, Burkina Faso, the Philippines and Brazil—places where the damaging effects of climate change like flooding, serious storms, drought and resource depletion are likely to be felt sooner—that figure soars above 70 percent.

West and Midwest Most Concerned About Drought The concern about droughts reaches far higher than average levels in the American West. Pew Research Center

Experiencing hardship that can, in part, be attributed to a changing climate appears to make all the difference in one’s attitude. In the U.S., Pew found that the biggest concern over climate change centers on fear of droughts and water shortages, with 50 percent of Americans naming drought as their top worry. That concern reaches far higher levels in the American West, which has been mired in extreme drought for the past four years; 63 percent of Westerners ranked it as their top climate concern, while in the Northeast of the country, 39 percent did.

US Differences in Attitudes about Climate Change between Republicans and Democrats Concern about climate change differs depending on political party affiliation. Pew Research Center

Politics matter, too. In the U.S., only 20 percent of Republicans say they agree with the phrase “Global climate change is a very serious problem,” while 68 percent of Democrats do. Yet lowering emissions, it seems, has far more support: fully 50 percent of Republicans say they’d support a plan to limit emissions, while 82 percent of Democrats would.

Catholics and the Religiously Unaffiliated More Concerned Catholics and people without religious affiliations tended to agree at higher rates with Pope Francis, who described climate change as grave threat to people and the planet. Pew research center

Concern over climate change seems to also relate to one’s religious leanings. Catholics, and those who are without a religious affiliation, were far more likely to view climate change as a “global problem with grave implications,” as Pope Francis described it in his environment encyclical published this spring, especially compared to those who identify as Protestant. 

Women More Than Men Say Personal Changes Gender consistently plays a part in how one feels about climate change. Pew research center

Being a woman seems to correlate with a greater personal investment in addressing climate change. While globally, 67 percent feel people we will have to make major lifestyle changes to reduce the effects of global climate change, when that figure is broken down by gender, women consistently agreed with that sentiment at higher rates than men. In the U.S., for example, 75 percent of women agreed with the statement, “To reduce the effects of global climate change, people will have to make major changes in the way they live.” Among U.S. men, agreement was 57 percent.

Editor's Pick