Poll: Religious people believe climate change is a real threat, not a controversy

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People of all faiths, including white evangelicals, are convinced climate change is real and a threat, according to a new poll, but whether they believe it’s caused by humans depends on the denomination.

Further, climate change doesn’t seem to be controversial among Roman Catholics, despite the contention of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who is Catholic, that the issue was too “controversial” for her to comment on during a recent Senate hearing.

A majority of Catholics not only believe that climate change is happening, but that it is caused by humans and they are worried by it, according to the poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Overall, nearly three-quarters of 1,884 registered voters said they believe climate change is happening, and a majority said it is a very serious or somewhat serious problem. And 58% said climate change is “caused mostly by human activities,” with 71% supporting at least some government action, presumably including those who believed it is caused by “natural changes in the environment.”

The online poll asked respondents to identify their faith.

Although 63% of white evangelical Protestants said climate change is happening and a majority believe it is a somewhat serious or very serious problem, only 44% believed it is caused by humans.

But a majority of all other affiliations, with the exception of “other,” believed the cause is human behavior.

“This is more evidence that there’s this dawning awareness within people of faith communities that climate change is in fact a moral and religious issue,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale program. “And that’s totally new.”

Leiserowitz said the poll also found more people are hearing about climate change than in the past. It has also become a serious topic in presidential debates for the first time.

There has been a sharp shift in interpreting the Bible to support concern over the environment, according to Leiserowitz. He cites the passage in Genesis: “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

The term dominion had traditionally been interpreted to mean that God gave humans the right “to do whatever you want.” Now the view is that humans are stewards of the earth, and is viewed in conjunction with the biblical passage stating humans were given the Garden of Eden to “tend and watch over it,” he said.

The poll also asked respondents about the environment and air pollution.

“This is a fundamental shift in the underlying cultural understanding of the human relationship to the earth.” Leiserowitz said. “And what you also see in these numbers is that overwhelmingly over 80% of Americans say that we should be taking care of the earth, and that the earth has its own inherent goodness.”

That thinking is being expressed in more sermons, he said. It also puts a majority of Americans of faith at odds with those who take a utilitarian view of the earth.

A belief by some that only God can be worshipped, and that environmentalism strays into worship of the earth, may also be changing said Cricket Eccleston Hunter, director of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light Program, a group of faith-based organizations that view climate change as a moral issue.

Hunter pointed out that the poll was conducted as wildfires in California and the West were in the news. She said that could have pushed climate change to the forefront, but she still wasn’t surprised by the poll results.

“Those numbers have been growing over time,” she said of acceptance of climate change. “It’s something people are becoming much clearer about.”

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