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Global Warming’s Six Americas

Oct 9, 2020 | All Categories, Climate Notes

Artwork by Michael Sloan

One of the first rules of effective communication is to “know thy audience.” Climate change public engagement efforts must start with the fundamental recognition that people are different and have different psychological, cultural, and political reasons for acting – or not acting – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our research has identified “Global Warming’s Six Americas”: six unique audiences within the American public that each responds to the issue in their own distinct way.

Want to know which of the Six Americas you are in?  

Take the short Six Americas Quiz!

The Alarmed are fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it. The Concerned are also convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged the issue personally.

Three other Americas – the Cautious, the Disengaged, and the Doubtful – represent different stages of understanding and acceptance of the problem, and none are actively involved. The final America – the Dismissive are very sure it is not happening and are actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The six audiences were first identified using a large nationally representative survey of American adults conducted in the fall of 2008. The survey questionnaire included extensive, in-depth measures of the public’s climate change beliefs, attitudes, risk perceptions, motivations, values, policy preferences, behaviors, and underlying barriers to action. The Six Americas are distinguishable on all these dimensions, and display very different levels of engagement with the issue.

The Six Americas Over Time

There has been a significant change in the distribution of the Six Americas over the past five years. The Alarmed segment has more than doubled in size (from 11% to 26% of the U.S. adult population) between 2015 and 2020, while the Dismissive segment has decreased by nearly half (from 12% to 7%). Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions. 

A look back at how the Six Americas have changed over the past decade (see animation) shows that the largest group, the Concerned, grew quickly from 2013 to 2015, but has declined slightly since then. The Alarmed, in contrast, experienced more rapid growth during the past five years than any of the other groups. Meanwhile, the Cautious, Doubtful, and Dismissive have been shrinking in recent years.  

The Six Americas framework is being used by climate educators and communicators throughout the United States, including local, state, and national governments, academic institutions, environmental organizations, businesses, faith groups, doctors and scientists, and the media.

For a quick introduction, please see our short video.