The Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post Climate Change Survey

Knowledge and Actions

What does the public understand about the major contributors to climate change, and what actions do they report taking to reduce their own carbon footprints?

Most adults have a pretty good gauge on the major contributors to climate change, but some misperceptions exist. Majorities of the public recognize deforestation (63%), automobiles (58%), and burning fossil fuels for heat and electricity (56%) as major causes of climate change. Fewer recognize the major contribution of airplane travel (24%), cattle farming (21%), and cement manufacturing (15%). On the other hand, 43% think that plastic bottles and bags are a major contributor to climate change, when in fact they play more of a minor role compared to other factors. Substantial shares think other non-related factors such as “the sun getting hotter” (37%), volcanic eruptions (19%), and water usage (18%) are major contributors.

Figure 1: Knowledge Among U.S. Adults Mixed When It Comes To Major Contributors To Climate Change And Global Warming

About half of adults say they have taken action to reduce their own carbon footprint, with a range of actions reported. About half (53%) of U.S. adults say they have taken actions to reduce their own carbon footprint in the past 2 years. Some of the actions people report taking target the major contributors of climate change: 20% report driving less, 14% use less electricity at home, 9% use a more fuel-efficient car, and 3% purchase electricity from a renewable source. However, some report actions that, while good for the environment, are less likely to make a major dent in climate change: 20% say they recycle, 7% reduce plastic use, 6% mention conserving water, and 4% mention using reusable items like bags, containers, and straws.

Figure 2: About Half Report Taking Actions To Reduce Carbon Footprint

Politics and Regional Differences Methodology