NEW YORK (AP) — Most adults in the United States — including a large majority of Christians and those who identify with other religions — consider the earth sacred and believe that God has given man a duty to care for it.
But highly religious Americans—those who pray daily, attend religious services regularly, and see religion as crucial to their lives—are much less likely than other American adults to express concern about global warming.
Those are some of the key findings in a comprehensive report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, which surveyed 10,156 U.S. adults from April 11 to April 17. The margin of error for the entire sample of respondents is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.
According to the research, religious Americans are less concerned about climate change for several reasons.
“First is politics: the main driver of American public opinion on climate is political party, not religion,” the report says.
“Very religious Americans are more likely than others to identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to believe that human activity (such as burning fossil fuels) is warming the planet or that climate change a serious problem.”
Commenting on the findings, Rev. Richenda Fairhurst, steward of climate at the nonprofit Circle Faith Future, said America’s compartmentalized culture is divisive rather than inspiring teamwork.
“I don’t know who serves that,” she said. “But it doesn’t serve the community — and it certainly doesn’t serve the planet.”
The poll found that about three-quarters (74%) of religiously affiliated Americans say the Earth is sacred. A larger proportion (80%) feel a sense of stewardship — agreeing completely or largely with the idea that “God has given man the duty to protect and care for the earth, including its plants and animals.”
Religious Americans who have little or no concern about climate change also say, “There are much bigger problems in the world, that God is in control of the climate and they don’t believe the climate is actually changing.”
Many religious Americans also worry about the potential impacts of environmental regulations, including the loss of individual freedoms, fewer jobs or higher energy prices, the report said.
The survey also found that two-thirds of adults in the US who are religiously affiliated say their faith’s scriptures contain lessons about the environment, and about four in 10 say they have prayed for the environment in the past year.
The beliefs, the report says, are common across a range of religious traditions.
Three-quarters of both evangelical Protestants and members of historically black Protestant churches say the Bible contains lessons about the environment. Eight in 10 American Catholics and Major Protestants say the Earth is sacred and so do 77% of non-Christian religions, according to the poll.
But Christians, and more generally religiously affiliated Americans, are divided in their views on climate change, the report said.
Those who view climate change as “an extreme or very serious problem” range from 68% of adults who identify with the historically black Protestant tradition to 34% of evangelical Protestants.
In none of the major Protestant traditions did a majority say that the earth is getting warmer, mainly due to human activity; only 32% of evangelicals thought so.
The report says that religiously unaffiliated — the fastest growing group in surveys asking Americans about their religious identity — are much more likely to say climate change is an extreme or very serious problem (70%) than religiously affiliated Americans (52%).
Commonly known as the “Nons”, they describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular”. According to the report, they are much more likely to say that the Earth is getting warmer, mainly due to human activity (66%) than people who are religiously connected (47%).
The research offers clues as to why religious Americans are less likely to care about climate change than people of no religion, despite seeing a link between their beliefs and environmental concerns:
• For American municipalities, climate change does not appear to be a major concern. The report says that of all US adults who attend religious services at least once or twice a month, only 8% say they “hear a lot or quite a bit about climate change in sermons.”
• One in five say they hear a discussion on the topic from the pulpit.
• And only 6% of US congregation members say they talk a lot or quite a bit about climate change with other people in their congregation.
Highly religious Americans are also less likely to view inefficient energy practices as morally wrong, the report said. We also see the same pattern when asked about eating food that takes a lot of energy to produce.
Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest and executive director of GreenFaith, a global multifaith environmental organization based in New York, said he was not surprised by the findings, as he does not see culturally and politically conservative Americans prioritizing climate action.
“What this study doesn’t tell us, however, is the role that religion, when used effectively, can play in moving people who are concerned but inactive to take public action on behalf of the climate,” Harper said. “This warrants further research so that we can all better understand the positive role religion can play in the fight against climate change.”
The Associated Press’ coverage of religion is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.