Somehow, a majority of Americans still don't think climate change will affect them

By AJ Dellinger

The reality of human-caused climate change was not always a controversial fact. It used to have closer to universal agreement in the United States, regardless of political affiliation, until conservative media muddied the waters with misinformation. New polling from the Yale Program on Climate Communication suggests that the fact that the planet is warming is once again getting harder to deny, even for those drinking from the poisoned wells of Fox News. But as more people come around to the reality, less than half actually believe that they personally will be affected, which is just so very American.

According to information provided to NBC News, the Yale-conducted survey asked people in all 50 states if they believed the statement, "global warming is mostly caused by human activities." In total, 57% of Americans said they were in agreement with that statement. While the overall figure isn't as high as one might want it to be, the survey also found that the statement had more than 50% support in 46 states. That's a drastic improvement over the last time Yale conducted the survey: In 2014, the university polling found that 48% of Americans overall believed humans were responsible for global warming, and just 18 states had a majority of people recognizing that reality. The only holdout states in the latest round of surveying were Kentucky, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming — all states that still have a heavy reliance on coal, fracking, and oil extraction.

That nine-point shift and 28-state swing mark the good news, providing a real opportunity for climate change legislation given that voters in a significant majority of states now recognize how humans have harmed the planet. The bad news is that even though more Americans believe that we are causing climate change, a majority still don't think they themselves will ever actually face the consequences. Just 43% of Americans nationally believe that climate change will harm them personally. More troubling, only two states — California and Hawaii — had a majority of residents who believe they will be affected as the planet continues to warm.

This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. Primary among them is the simple fact that many of those expressing doubt that climate change will ever reach them have likely already felt the effects of it. According to Carbon Brief, dozens of extreme weather events that have taken place in the last decade across the U.S. have been made worse because of human influence. Wildfires raging across the western United States, an unexpected winter storm freezing much of Texas, costly and destructive thunderstorms rolling through the Midwest, flooding and coastlines disappearing on the eastern seaboard — there is not a region of the country that has not felt the effects of climate change in some way.

The fact that Americans are still so slow to come around to this reality is a problem. People tend to care more and are more willing to support action when they believe that they will be affected directly. And make no mistake about it, Americans in all 50 states will be affected. That realization is going to have to come fast if we're going to take meaningful action against climate change in time to stave off disaster.