This Week in Nature: Who, Us? Fewer Than 50% of Americans Think Humans Are the Main Cause of Climate Change

Video: Joining “Chicago Tonight” to discuss the results of the new survey is Sam Ori, executive director of the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. (Produced by Eunice Alpasan)

 When it comes to climate change, Americans are increasingly pointing the finger at nature itself as the cause.

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According to the results of new survey, there’s been a sizeable shift in just the last five years in the percentage of Americans who believe humans are the primary driver of climate change as opposed to natural changes in the environment.

Though three-quarters of Americans believe climate change is happening, only 49% say it’s mostly or entirely precipitated by human activity — an 11% drop since 2018.

Digging into the demographics, the falloff was most pronounced among Democrats and independents. In 2018, 72% of Democrats said climate change is mostly or entirely a result of human activities; in 2023, that figure fell to 60%. For independents, the decline was even steeper: from 61% in 2018 to 42% in 2023.

Creeping doubt about humans’ impact on climate could be affecting the choices people are making, or not making, to reduce their carbon footprint.

The survey showed 89% of Americans routinely turn off lights when not needed and 68% use energy efficient appliances. But far fewer people have taken more significant steps: Only 11% have lived in a home with solar panels, and just 12% have driven a hybrid or electric vehicle.

Other interesting results of the survey:

— Americans have mixed feelings about the high-voltage power lines needed to transport renewable energy: 56% support beefing up the nation’s power grid, but that number dips to 48% if the power lines would be built in their neighborhood.

— People who live in the Southwest and on the West Coast are more likely than other Americans to say they’d consider moving to avoid extreme weather impacts. People in the Northeast are standing pat.

The survey was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, with funding from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. Additional results are available online.

Here’s what else caught our attention this week.


The New York Times does the deep dive we’ve been waiting for into the feasibility of the push toward what we’ve decided to call Electric Everything Everywhere All at Once. Among the seldom mentioned challenges identified by the Times: There aren’t enough electricians.

The nation’s electric grid also remains one of the biggest question marks in the U.S. — can it handle the power surge? Not at the moment, according to the Times: “Last summer, amid a severe heat wave and electricity crunch, California asked residents to avoid charging their electric cars during peak hours.”


The Biden administration is prepared to step in and dictate the terms of cutting Colorado River water allocations to California, Arizona and Nevada if the states can’t hammer out an agreement on their own. After 23 years of megadrought, water levels in reservoirs are at record lows and there’s a very real possibility of water no longer flowing downstream from dams — a condition known as dead pool.

The options on the table include retaining existing water rights — which would benefit California — or splitting allocations evenly among California, Nevada and Arizona. The stakes are high: California’s agriculture industry is thirsty, and so are the people of Las Vegas and Phoenix. According to a recent report by NPR, folks in one Phoenix suburb are already buying water from delivery trucks, even as development continues.


(Pierre9x6 / Pixabay)(Pierre9x6 / Pixabay)

Paris may be the city of light, love and beauty, but its river, the Seine, is so dirty that it’s been off-limits to swimmers for 100 years. So naturally, when the city won the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, officials decided the filthy waterway would be the perfect venue for, you guessed it, the games’ swimming contests.

The cleanup will cost $1.5 billion, including improvements being made to treatment plants and construction of huge storage basins to reduce overflows into the river when it rains. Officials also decided the time had finally come to force owners of houseboats on the Seine to hook up to Paris’ sewage network instead of dumping directly into the river.

Who knew swimming was a potentially dangerous contact sport?

Carbon capture

The Chicago Tribune has been following the battle between the companies that want to run carbon dioxide pipelines through Illinois, and the Illinoisians who oppose them.

The argument for the pipelines is that they allow industry to capture carbon. Instead of escaping into the air, the carbon travels in an underground tube until it reaches a place like Illinois, where the rock is amenable to being injected with the gas for storage.

The argument against the pipelines is that they carry a toxic substance and run under rivers and people’s property. In the event of a rupture, the impact could be deadly.

The Inflation Reduction Act increased incentives to build such pipelines, so the race is on.

Tweet of the Week

This has Pixar buddy comedy written all over it.

Note: This article was published April 14 and updated with video on April 18.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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