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Sense of Urgency About Climate Change Is Declining Among Youth, Poll Finds

Released amid record-breaking temperatures and rising seas, the survey reports an alarming decline in perceived urgency.

The Maldonado family travel by boat to their home after it flooded during Hurricane Ida on August 31, 2021, in Barataria, Louisiana.

The number of U.S. adults who say climate change is a “very serious” problem has dropped by 10 percent since 2021, according to a national survey released this week.

The survey results reflect an alarming decline in the sense of urgency around global warming among all age groups.

The new poll by Monmouth University adds to years of data on public attitudes about climate change. For the first time in years, less than half of respondents say climate change is a “very serious” problem, dropping from 56 percent to 46 percent between April 2021 to April 2024. Those who say climate change is at least a “somewhat serious” problem dropped from 70 percent to 66 percent.

Meanwhile, 2023 went down in history as the modern world’s warmest year on record, and climate scientists tracked sea level rise equivalent to emptying a quarter of the water in Lake Superior into the world’s oceans.

Climate change is often framed as a defining issue for younger generations, but the number of U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 who say climate change is a “very serious” problem plummeted 17 points over the past three years from 67 percent to 50 percent. That’s compared to smaller declines among older age brackets, including those who are 35 to 54 years old (44 percent, down from 48 percent) and those age 55 and older (44 percent, down from 54 percent).

“Support for climate action remains relatively high in absolute terms, but it has softened due to a drop in the sense of urgency on this issue, particularly among younger adults,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement.

Climate disasters continue to make headlines, most recently in Brazil, where the nation’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is blaming climate disruption driven by fossil fuel consumption in richer countries for devastating flooding across the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where at least 90 people are dead and 150,000 rendered homeless.

The world’s oceans are facing unprecedented heat waves, threatening sea level rise in coastal areas and killing off crucial coral reef habitats from Australia to Florida.

Abortion, immigration and the economy top the list of issues motivating voters of all ages. Last month, a Monmouth poll found that only 15 percent of likely voters said climate change will determine how they vote in November, behind abortion (33 percent), inflation and prices (38 percent), immigration (33 percent), and Israel’s war on Gaza (18 percent).

Still, more than half of respondents said climate change will play a “significant” or “minor” role in determining how they vote, while 32 percent said climate change is not important to them at all.

Most Americans acknowledge that global warming is leading to extreme weather and sea level rise, with 73 percent agreeing that climate change is real. However, support for government climate action dipped in recent years, even as wildfires devasted Western U.S. states and climate scientists issued increasingly dire warnings about fossil fuel pollution.

Today, just over half of Monmouth University respondents say it’s either “very important” or “extremely important” for the federal government to address global warming. That’s down from September 2021, when 60 percent of respondents said it was “extremely important” (33 percent) or “very important” (27 percent) that the government take climate action.

Back in 2018, shortly before former President Donald Trump disparaged a new federal climate report, support for government action on climate change reached a record 69 percent. Today, that number is down 10 points, and the percentage of Republicans who accept the reality of climate change is down from an all-time high of 64 percent in 2018 to 51 percent in 2024.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats are much more likely to accept that climate change is happening and support a robust federal response, but the most recent Monmouth poll registered a decline in urgency around the issue across both parties.

“Most Americans continue to believe climate change is real,” Murray said. “The difference in these latest poll results is a decline in a sense of urgency around this issue.”

A heavy news reader may assume that Israel’s brutal war on Gaza is drawing attention away from climate disruption among younger adults, but a recent Harvard youth poll found that while student activists have organized significant protests in solidary with Palestine on many college campuses, adults 18 to 27 on average ranked the war on Gaza 13th out of the top 15 issues facing the United States.

However, youth activists are exploring the intersections of the struggle for Palestinian liberation and the global fight to stop climate disruption and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable. After all, research shows that militarism and armed conflict requires massive amounts of the fossil fuels that cause climate-warming pollution.

The U.S. military is a major global contributor to climate change and has a well-known history of fighting wars for oil, making the link between the climate and anti-war movements increasingly clear. The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate justice group, recently joined dozens of progressive and civil rights groups in issuing a joint statement in support of the students protesting against Israel’s war on Gaza, which is supported by deliveries of U.S. weapons.

In a recent post on X, the Sunrise Movement suggested that officials in the Biden administration know that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, but just like the fossil fuel companies that hid evidence of their complicity in global warming for decades, U.S. leaders are not willing to admit the gravity of the situation to the public.

“They can’t admit it because they’re afraid of the millions of Americans who cannot imagine the moral injury of knowing and not acting,” the group said.

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