Poll: Facing Extreme Weather is Changing Americans’ Views About Need for Climate Change Action

Twenty four percent of those who have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years say extreme weather caused serious health problems for their households.

    • June 21, 2022

Princeton, N.J.—According to a new NPR / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation / Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, facing extreme weather events is impacting Americans’  views about the need for climate change action. Nationally, adults who report they have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years are currently more likely to see climate change in the United States as a crisis or a major problem (77%)  compared with those who have not been affected by such events (46%) (see Figure 1). Among adults affected by extreme weather events in the past five years, 37% see climate change in the U.S. as a crisis and 40% see it as a major problem. Among adults not affected by extreme weather events in the past five years, 16% see it as a crisis and 30% see it as a major problem.

This poll, The Impact of Extreme Weather on Views About Climate Policy in the United States, was conducted March 31–May 8, 2022, among 2,646 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. See the Methodology below for further details.

On a range of policy measures, public support for government climate action is higher among U.S. adults who have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years than those who have not. This includes higher support for stricter federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks (71% to 53%), regulations to make the electricity grid more resistant to extreme weather (64% to 47%), and increased state government spending to prepare for future weather disasters (63% to 39%).

In the current period of high inflation, the public largely favors policies seen as having less of a direct impact on their own financial situation. When faced with two broad policy choices—limiting carbon emissions and fortifying infrastructure to protect against weather disasters—there is generally higher public support for policies aimed at protecting against future weather disasters (e.g., 57% support increased state spending to prepare for future weather disasters) compared with reducing carbon emissions to limit climate change (e.g., only 39% support a carbon tax if it substantially increases their energy prices).

Notable examples of high public support for proposals seen as having a limited impact on the financial situation facing households are federal government requirements to reduce carbon emissions from power plants (78% support) and stricter federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks (67% support). However, even though it might hurt U.S. efforts to limit climate change, 62 percent of the public still thinks the government should allow oil producers to drill for more oil in the U.S. to try to help lower gasoline prices in the future.

“Facing extreme weather has had a substantial impact on millions of Americans, who have had serious property damage, health, and financial consequences,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis Emeritus at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Experiencing these weather disasters has had a real impact on the public’s support for policies to prepare against future weather disasters, and to a lesser extent, support for policies to limit climate change by reducing carbon emissions.”  

When it comes to serious health problems, among the 78 percent of U.S. households experiencing extreme weather events in the past five years, 24 re percentported facing serious health problems as a result, 17 percent reported serious financial problems, 14 percent reported evacuating from their home, and 14 percent reported major home or property damage (see Figure 2). In addition, when it comes to serious health problems faced by households as a result of extreme weather, 51 percent of Native Americans who have experienced extreme weather in the past five years said their households have faced serious health problems as a result, while 31 percent of Latino adults, 30 percent of Asian adults, 29 percent of Black adults, and 18 percent of White adults said this.

About Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.

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About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, we are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.