9 in 10 Americans believe climate change is happening, but opinions differ on causes

Americans say climate change has "gotten more real" and they want brands to respond. Find out how.

The American public’s attitudes and beliefs towards climate change are changing, according to our latest survey of 2,000 US consumers. The vast majority of Americans (94%) believe that climate change is happening now, with just 6% feeling it is not occurring. 

However, of those who believe that climate change is affecting the earth, there are divergent views on the root causes. The majority (50%) think that it is caused by a combination of human activity and natural forces. By contrast, just over a quarter (28%) feel it is being caused solely by humans, while 16% believe the causes are due to nature only. 

Climate change now & into the future

As the US faced a variety of record-breaking climate-related events in 2020 (including 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes, 58,950 wildfires), a majority of Americans (52%) say their view on climate change has been altered in the last year. Of these respondents, one in ten (10%) say their opinions have “changed completely”.

When asked to predict when climate change was most likely to directly affect them and their families, the single largest percentage of Americans feel it is going to be in their lifetime (38%), followed by their children’s lifetime (23%) and their grandchildren’s lifetime (21%). Only 17% believe that it will take over 100 years before the effects of climate change impact their families’ daily lives. 

Americans’ views on sustainability and their own role

In line with the belief that climate change is happening, nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) say they are interested in the issue of sustainability. What’s more, the level of interest has increased – when we polled consumers in September 2020, 28% of people said they were ‘very interested’ in climate change, now, that figure has increased to 37.5%. When quizzed on the ways they think they can positively impact the environment, Americans are most likely to focus their efforts and energy on consciously reducing their use of single-use plastic (72%).

Diets are also one area nearly half (49%) of respondents say must change to reduce global warming. However, there are differing opinions on what such a diet looks like:

  • 38% haven’t considered reducing the amount of meat they eat
  • More than a quarter (27%) have, or plan to, cut down on their consumption of meat
  • 15% say they’ve tried reducing meat intake but “found it difficult”
  • 7% say they’ve tried veganism/vegetarianism but gone back to eating meat, and only 6% say they are a vegan or vegetarian
  • Future innovations like lab-grown meat could soon be on the menu  – the number of people who are open to it has doubled since 2019 (from 12% to 35%)

Attitudes towards prominent environmentalists

According to the poll, former US Vice President Al Gore is the most well-known environmentalist amongst Americans, followed by climate activist Greta Thunberg (43%), Dr. Sylvia Earle (15%) and Mardy Murie (10.5%). 

Regarding Thunberg, the majority of the American public views her in a positive light – 40% believe she has boosted awareness of the issue of climate change, 35% find her inspiring, while 14% say she has taught them about what global warming is.

The effect of businesses’ environmental efforts

The research also uncovered the high value that Americans place in businesses that have a positive effect on the environment. Eight in ten (81%) say it is important to them that a company operates and acts in a way that is environmentally friendly. Of this, over half (51.5%) state that it is “very important” to them. 

A majority of Americans also experience positive feelings when brands promote their environmental credentials:

  • 42% say they feel appreciative 
  • A quarter (25%) say it increases their loyalty to a company 
  • 16% feel assured in their purchase 
  • By contrast, a small minority find such promotional efforts in a negative light – 11% say it makes them suspicious of a brand, 9% feel “sold to”, while 19% are indifferent. 

More than 65% of Americans agree that companies are trying to operate in a way that positively impacts the environment. However, the penalty for businesses that have greenwashed their environmental record is steep among consumers. Nearly two-thirds (62.5%) of respondents say they would be unlikely to buy from a company that had embellished its green credentials.  

What’s changed since the pandemic?

Interest in environmental issues has increased markedly since we polled Americans in 2019, with conscious consumerism clearly on the rise.

% Agree

I am consciously trying to reduce my use of single-use plastic:  

I care about the negative impact of producing cheap, throwaway products and clothing:  

I agree we need to change our diets to reduce global warming:                

I am open to the idea of lab-grown meat:  

                                                                                       

2019

58%

62%

42%

12%

2021

72%

70%

49%

35%

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Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 100m global consumers. She also likes cake.

See all articles by Bel