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Who supports climate justice in the U.S.?

Nov 6, 2023 | All Categories, Climate Notes

Who supports climate justice in the U.S.?
USDA/FPAC Photo by Preston Keres


Climate change is harming people in the United States and around the world. While climate change harms people from all walks of life, those who have done the least to cause climate change often suffer the most, while those who have emitted the most carbon pollution often suffer the least. Climate change also exacerbates existing vulnerabilities, including those based on personal factors (such as age or existing health issues) and social factors (such as systemic racism and poverty). Moreover, investments in climate change solutions, such as flood protection or renewable energy, often tend to benefit people and communities who are already advantaged.

Climate justice focuses on considering the needs of everyone and addressing these inequities head-on. The goals of climate justice include reducing the unequal harms of climate change, providing equitable benefits from climate solutions, and involving affected communities in decision-making. Organizers in the broader environmental justice field have advanced climate justice for decades, including during the first Climate Justice Summit in 2000 at the 6th United Nations Conference of Parties climate negotiations (COP6). As a result, climate justice has become a core part of the climate movement, including both federal and local government action to address climate change in the United States.

While climate justice is an important issue, many Americans are not yet familiar with it. According to our recent report, only about one in three Americans (34%) say they have heard or read at least “a little” about climate justice, while most (65%) say they have not heard of it. However, after reading a brief description of climate justice, about half of Americans (53%) say they support it, while large majorities of registered voters support climate justice-related policies.

Here, we use data from our latest Climate Change in the American Mind survey (April, 2023; n = 1,011) to identify the demographic groups who are least familiar with climate justice but most supportive of, and willing to vote for, climate justice after learning about it. Results by political party and ideology are included in the original report. (Note: Due to sample size limitations among racial/ethnic groups, we can only compare the three largest racial/ethnic groups in the U.S.: White (non-Hispanic/Latino), Black (non-Hispanic/Latino), and Hispanic/Latino adults.)

Results

Climate Justice Awareness and Support

In the survey, respondents were first asked how much they have heard or read about climate justice. After responding to that initial question, respondents were given a brief description of the goals of climate justice then asked how much they support or oppose them. The description read, “Climate justice refers to the idea that global warming affects everyone, but certain communities are harmed more than others, especially low-income communities and communities of color. The goals of climate justice are to reduce these unequal harms, include these communities in decision-making, and ensure they receive a fair share of the benefits of climate action (such as good jobs, cleaner air and water, better health, etc.).”

The groups who are least likely to know about climate justice include adults in the United States who have a high school education or less (only 10% know “some” or “a lot”), have some college education (13%), earn less than $50,000 per year (12%), are Black (12%), or live in rural areas (13%). Black adults, however, were the group with the highest level of support for climate justice (70%) after reading a description of it. Other demographic groups with high levels of support for climate justice after reading about it included adults in the U.S. who: are Hispanic/Latino(66%), have a Bachelor’s degree or higher (61%), or live in urban areas (61%). Overall, the groups with the largest gaps between having heard about climate justice (prior to reading a description) and supporting climate justice (after reading a description) were Black adults (12% said they know “a lot” or “some” about climate justice while 70% said they support its goals – a difference of 58 percentage points), followed by Hispanic/Latino adults, women, and those earning less than $50,000 per year (each with a difference of 45 percentage points).

Voting for Candidates Who Support Climate Justice

About four in ten U.S. adults (43%) said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports climate justice (while 21% said they would be less likely and 34% said it makes no difference either way). The groups who were most likely to say they would vote for a candidate who supports climate justice include adults in the U.S. who are Black (62%), live in urban areas (53%), or are Hispanic/Latino (51%). While only about one-third of adults who live in rural areas (31%) or are White (34%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports climate justice, many in both groups say that a candidate’s climate justice stance “makes no difference either way” (38% of people in rural areas and 35% of White adults).

Climate Justice Policy Support

While a majority of respondents support climate justice-related policies, support is consistently higher among Black and Hispanic/Latino respondents than White respondents. Nevertheless, majorities of all groups support climate-justice related policies.

The results indicate important opportunities for climate and environmental justice organizations in the United States. Many adults in the U.S. who are Black, Hispanic/Latino, women, or who have lower incomes, know little to nothing about climate justice – but most people in these groups support it when they learn about it. Notably, these groups also face greater harm from climate change impacts. Climate and environmental justice organizations have already made significant efforts to raise public awareness of, and promote political action on, these issues in many local communities. Nonetheless, our data underscores the need for greater investment in education, communication, and organizing, particularly among Black and Hispanic/Latino audiences, to expand the base of support nationally.

Solid majorities of respondents across racial and ethnic groups support climate justice policies in the United States, so talking about the specific benefits of actions to promote climate justice in communities may build more support than only talking about climate justice as a general concept.

Methods

This report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted jointly by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Interview dates: April 18 – May 1, 2023. Interviews: 1,011 adults (18+). Average margin of error for both all adults and registered voters: +/- 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The research was funded by the 11th Hour Project, the Energy Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Grantham Foundation.

The survey questions included in this report were developed in partnership with climate justice organizations and practitioners in the United States and Canada. Organizations and individuals who contributed to question development are listed in alphabetical order by organization:

  • Digital Climate Coalition (Andrea Aguilar, Sha Merirei Ongelungel, Karina Sahlin, and Cristian Sanchez)
  • Green Latinos (Irene Burga and Mark Magaña)
  • Justice Environment (Saad Amer)
  • Mississippi Communities United for Prosperity (Romona Taylor Williams)
  • Neighbours United (Montana Burgess)
  • Sierra Club (Grace McRae and Makeda Fekede)
  • WE ACT for Environmental Justice (Manuel Salgado and Annika Larson)
  • Yale Center for Environmental Justice (Kristin Barendregt-Ludwig, Michel Gelobter, and Gerald Torres)

The average margins of error at the 95% confidence interval for each demographic group:

  • Race/ethnicity:
    • Black (+/- 11 percentage points)
    • Hispanic/Latino (+/- 8 percentage points) respondents
    • White (+/- 4 percentage points)
  • Education:
    • High school or less (+/- 5 percentage points)
    • Some college (+/- 6 percentage points)
    • Bachelor’s degree or higher (+/- 5 percentage points)
  • Annual income:
    • Less than $50,000 (+/- 6 percentage points)
    • $50,000-$99,999 (+/- 5 percentage points)
    • $100,000 or more (+/- 5 percentage points)
  • Gender:
    • Female (+/- 4 percentage points)
    • Male (+/- 4 percentage points)
  • Generational cohort:
    • Gen Z/Millennial (1981-2005) (+/- 6 percentage points)
    • Generation X  (1965-1980) (+/- 6 percentage points)
    • Baby Boomer/Silent Generation/Greatest Generation (1928-1964) (+/- 5 percentage points)
  • Urban/rural:
    • Urban (+/- 7 percentage points)
    • Suburban (+/- 4 percentage points)
    • Rural (+/- 6 percentage points)

Climate Change in the American Mind is conducted jointly by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Citation

Carman, J., Ballew, M., Verner, M., Lu, D., Low, J., Rosenthal, S., Maibach, E., Kotcher, J., Marlon, J., and Leiserowitz, A. (2023). Who supports climate justice in the U.S.? Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Funding Sources

The research was funded by the 11th Hour Project, the Energy Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Grantham Foundation.