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News Release | Six-in-ten Americans Believe Climate Change Responsible for Recent Natural Disasters

[12.13.2012]

Nearly 4-in-10 say severity of storms is evidence we are in Biblical “end times”

 

WASHINGTON — While nearly 4-in-10 (36 percent) Americans believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence that we are in what the Bible calls the “end times,” more than six-in-ten (63 percent) say the severity is due to global climate change.

The December PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service, finds religious disagreement on what is behind the severe weather. A majority of white mainline Protestants (65 percent) and Catholics (60 percent) believe the disasters are the result of climate change, while nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants believe the storms are evidence that we are in Biblical “end times.”

Regardless of what the weather signifies, Americans generally agree that over the last few years, the weather has been getting more extreme (63 percent), and that there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades (75 percent).

“One of the more remarkable findings of the survey is that political polarization in America not only affects how partisans view the causes of climate change, but it also colors even their perceptions of the weather,” said PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox. “More than three-quarters of Democrats and nearly 6-in-10 independents believe that over the last few years, the weather is getting more extreme, while less than half of Republicans say they perceive this shift in the weather.”

The new survey finds that among Americans who agree the earth is getting warmer, a majority (60 percent) say these temperature changes are the result of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, while more than one-third (34 percent) of those who believe temperatures are increasing say that these changes are due to natural patterns in the environment.

“While there is disagreement about the causes of, and to a lesser extent the existence of, global warming, there is nonetheless widespread agreement about the need for action,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “Nine-in-ten Americans who believe global warming is caused by human action and nearly six-in-ten Americans who believe global warming is due to natural weather patterns agree that the U.S. government should do more to address the issue of climate change.”

Overall, two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say that the U.S. government should do more to address climate change, compared to 31 percent who disagree.                                                                                                      

Among the findings:

  • Only 2 percent of Americans believe that the end of the world, as predicted by the ancient Mayans will occur by year’s end.
  • Fifteen percent of Americans believe that the end of the world, as predicted by the Book of Revelation, will occur in their lifetime.
    • College graduates are four times less likely to believe that the world will end in their lifetime than Americans with a high school education or less (5 percent vs. 22 percent).
    • Roughly 3-in-10 white evangelical Protestants (29 percent) and minority Protestants (27 percent) believe that the end of the world, as predicted in the book of Revelation, will occur in their lifetime. By contrast, no more than 1-in-10 Catholics (10 percent), white mainline Protestants (8 percent), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (7 percent) agree.
  • A majority (55 percent) of Americans agree that God gave human beings the task of living responsibly with the animals, plants and resources of the planet, which are not just for human benefit. Nearly 4-in-10 (38 percent) Americans disagree, saying that God gave human beings the right to use animals, plants and all the resources of the planet for human benefit.

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life.

Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here.
Read the RNS story here.