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American Attitudes Toward Climate Change and Environment Are Mixed

Thawt Hawthje
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Creative Commons
The survey found nine distinct types of attitudes regarding climate change and the environment.

As world leaders in Paris approach what could be a historic agreement on climate change, a new Yale University survey finds Americans have very complicated attitudes about the environment.

The survey polled more than 1,500 adults and found nine distinct types of American attitudes regarding several environmental issues, including climate change.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, said acknowledging this diversity of opinion is important.

"For anyone who is interested in trying to inform and educate and engage Americans in environmental issues and environmental behavior, it's really critical to understand who those different audiences are," Leiserowitz said. "Because in the end, you want to engage them where they are -- starting where they are. Not necessarily where you are."

Categories ranged from people who spend lots of time outdoors and are acutely engaged with environmental issues, to climate change deniers who identify as staunchly anti-environmentalist.

In the middle, the poll found one in five Americans are so-called "homebodies," which is the largest group identified. This group reports feeling no connection to nature, and is apathetic when it comes to environmental issues.

"This is a group that's probably going to be most motivated by say, 'pocketbook' environmentalism," Leiserowitz said. "In other words, here are the whole range of activities and behaviors that one can take in one's own life to improve your health -- to improve your comfort and to save you money, that also happen to be good for the environment."

According to the poll, 56 percent of Americans said global warming is happening, 20 percent said it isn't and almost a quarter remain unsure. Research was done in consultation with the Associated Press.

Clarification: An earlier version of this post reported the survey was on climate change. The poll was also on other environmental issues, in addition to climate change. 

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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