Pew: Majority of US Catholics Believe in Global Warming, but Less Than Half Attribute It to Human Activity

Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Franco Origlia/Getty

A new Pew Research Center survey, released as Pope Francis publishes an encyclical on the environment and climate change, finds that 71% of self-identified American Catholics believe the earth is getting warmer, but only 47% attribute the perceived warming to human activity.

Additionally, 48% of U.S. Catholics consider global warming to be a very serious problem, while 46% of the general public believes the same. Only 22% of Catholics, according to the survey, say there is no solid evidence of global warming.

The survey demonstrates that global warming is a highly politicized issue that breaks U.S. Catholics down along the lines of their political parties, as well as their race and ethnicity.

Pew notes that in the survey, 34% of Catholic participants identified themselves as Democrats, while 24% described themselves as Republicans, and 31% as independents.

Catholic Democrats and independents were found to be solidly in the camp of believers in global warming, with 85% of Catholic Democrats espousing the ideology along with 72% of Catholic independents. Among Catholic Republicans, however, 51% said they agree with the concept. The general public clocks in at 68% believing the planet is warming.

Regarding whether human activity is seen as the cause of perceived global warming, Pew found that 62% of U.S. Catholic Democrats said the cause is human, as opposed to 48% of independents, and only 24% of Republicans. The survey observed that 45% of the general public view perceived global warming as caused by humans.

Among Hispanic Catholics, 82% say global warming is occurring, 60% say it is caused by humans, and 63% say it is a very serious problem. While 64% of white Catholics say the planet is getting warmer, only 39% attribute the perceived warming to humans. In addition, 63% of Hispanic Catholics say global warming is a serious issue, compared to 39% of white Catholics.

Pew observes, “The share saying that global warming is a very serious problem has grown by 20 percentage points among Catholic Democrats (from 44% in 2013 to 64% today) and 10 points among Catholic Republicans (from 14% to 24%).”

According to the Guardian, a leaked draft of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and climate change shows that the Pontiff believes global warming is a very serious problem. He will “call for changes in lifestyle and energy consumption to avert the ‘unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem’ before the end of this century.” Additionally, he will urge the creation of a “global political authority tasked with ‘tackling … the reduction of pollution and the development of poor countries and regions.’”

The Pew survey found that 64% of the general U.S. public view the Latin American Pope Francis favorably, while 86% of U.S. Catholics hold a favorable view of him. Pope Francis’ favorability ratings, however, have not surpassed those of Saint Pope John Paul II, whose rating was 93% in both 1990 and 1996.

Among American Catholics in the survey, 74% see Pope Francis as a major change in direction for the Church, with 69% viewing him as a change for the better and only 3% as a change for the worse. Catholics who say they attend Mass weekly reportedly had higher ratings of the pope than those who say they attend less often.

Prior to the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, the survey found that 53% of Catholics say the Pope is doing a good or excellent job addressing environmental issues.


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