Rice University’s annual opinion survey found wide concern that climate change is a serious problem and acceptance of its human causation. A national poll found pandemic worries haven’t eroded climate concerns.


2020 Kinder poll

Houston-area flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017

Climate-science deniers, whose numbers appear to be dwindling, will find no comfort from a pair of new polls – one conducted in Houston and the other a national survey. Both show widespread agreement that climate change is human-caused, the central scientific conclusion behind the drive for pollution-reducing action to blunt the problem.

Rice University’s latest Kinder Houston Area Survey, 39th in an annual series, found in February and early March that 51 percent of Harris County residents regard climate change as “a very serious problem.” About one in four said it’s “somewhat serious.”

Nearly seven in 10 respondents in the Rice survey – 69 percent – said the major cause of climate change is “human activities” and not “normal climate cycles.”

The sweeping consensus of the world scientific community holds that pollution from coal, oil and gas use is the main reason the atmosphere is warming with increasingly dangerous results.

The 51 percent in Houston who told the Rice researchers that climate change is “a very serious problem” was basically identical to the 52 percent who said that in 2018.

The Rice survey also asked about severe storms and flooding, which have buffeted Houston in recent years and which scientists say can be expected more often as climate change spins off more hazardous weather.

“I thought it was interesting to see in this year’s survey that today, two and a half years after (Hurricane) Harvey, the concern about floods and sea-level rise is as strong as ever,” the Rice survey’s founding director, sociologist Stephen Klineberg, told Texas Climate News.

“The number of area residents who spontaneously mentioned flooding as ‘the biggest problem facing people in the Houston area today’ actually increased from 7 percent in 2019 to 11 percent in 2020. Fully 77 percent in this year’s survey agreed that more severe storms are virtually certain to occur in the next 10 years compared to the past 10 years.”

Regarding the survey questions that were explicitly about climate change, Klineberg added:

“More than half (51 percent) said that the threat of climate change was ‘a very serious problem,’ and there has been a steady, progressive increase, from 48 percent in 2011 to 69 percent today in the numbers who believe that ‘human activities,’ rather than ‘normal climate cycles’ are primarily responsible for climate change.

“So this year’s survey shows clearly that area residents see the world differently today than they did five or 10 years ago, and they are more prepared than in past years to acknowledge that the region’s continuing vulnerability to severe storms is the ‘new normal’ in Houston today.”

Houston Area Survey

Polling by Rice University’s Kinder Institute over the past decade has found a growing view among Harris County residents of climate change as a “very serious problem” for Houston. The annual Houston Area Survey has also found increasing acceptance of the consensus scientific conclusion that human activities are the main cause.

While the Rice survey was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic upended American life, the new national survey was conducted from April 7-17, well into the nationwide lockdown to slow its spread. It was conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities as part of their years-long series of polls on climate issues.

The researchers said they were prepared to find that Americans’ worries about Covid-19 had dramatically eroded concern about climate change but actually discovered that “public engagement in the issue of climate change remains at or near historic levels.”

They found, for example, that 62 percent of Americans said global warming is mainly human-caused, which tied the record-high number giving that response in their surveys.

About two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents told the researchers they were at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. The same percentage said the issue is “extremely” or “very” or “somewhat” important to them personally.


Bill Dawson is the founding editor of Texas Climate News.

Image credits: Photo – Jill Carlson / Flickr. Charts – Rice University Kinder Institute.