Climate change has unequal impacts on socially disadvantaged communities around the globe, including within major emitting nations such as the United States. But to what extent does the public recognize these inequities? We report results from two national-level surveys of US adults conducted in May and August–September 2022 (N = 2101 total) that asked respondents whether climate change affects “some groups more than others” or “all groups about equally,” and that experimentally tested how referencing specific social categories (e.g., “some racial groups more than others…”) affected responses. Results suggest low recognition of climate inequities among the US public, with only 37 to 44% of respondents correctly recognizing that climate change affects “some groups more than others” across the two surveys. Furthermore, despite robust evidence of the role of race as a determinant of climate-related inequities, just 22% of respondents acknowledged race-based climate inequities. Recognition of climate inequities was greater among younger respondents, those with more education, Hispanic respondents, and Democrats. Nevertheless, baseline levels of recognition were low, with fewer than one-third of Democrats and those with a 4-year college or post-graduate degree recognizing race-based inequities. We consider implications of this pervasive “great equalizer” perception for mobilizing public support for policies aimed at addressing climate injustice.
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All data and study documentation will be made available through the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.
This response pattern was largely similar when broken out by race of the respondent, with 35% of Black, 29% of Latino, and 24% of White respondents indicating that climate change is “more likely to impact people of color.”
This is the final analytic sample size. In accordance with our IRB permissions, nine respondents (six from Study 1 and three from Study 2) were omitted from analysis because they indicated their age was less than 18 years.
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This research was supported by grants from the Cornell Center for Social Sciences and the Einhorn Center for Community Engagement at Cornell University.
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Schuldt, J.P., Pearson, A.R. Public recognition of climate change inequities within the United States. Climatic Change 176, 114 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-023-03594-1