A new poll shows that Massachusetts residents now see the climate crisis less seriously than they did three-years ago, despite increasing international warnings and an onslaught catastrophic wildfires and weather related to global warming.
It’s not that respondents weren’t aware of the climate threat; a large majority acknowledged that symptoms of the crisis such as increased flooding, extreme heat waves, and more powerful storms are either already happening or very likely within five years, according to the poll, a collaboration of The Boston Globe and The MassINC Polling Group. And more than three quarters called climate change a “very serious” or “serious” concern.”
With the Ukraine war and pandemic as backdrops, less than half of respondents (48%) ranked climate in the top category of concern. This is down from 53 per cent in the 2019 poll. Only half of respondents said they would vote along climate lines, or take steps like switching off their home’s heat from fossil fuel.
“Climate change is the kind of issue where people still think they can put it off on the back burner of their minds, especially when they’re dealing with COVID, when they’re dealing with inflation, when they’re dealing with all kinds of other terrible things in the world,” said Richard Parr, research director with The MassINC Polling Group.
MassINC surveyed 1,890 Massachusetts residents from March 23 to April 5. The Barr Foundation sponsored the poll, which has a margin error of +/- 2.6 percent. (The foundation grants support for The Great Divide, a Globe education project.
Climate was rated as a very important issue by more Democrats than Republicans (62 percent to 22%). However, the number who ranked it high has fallen 10 points since 2019. It remained roughly the same for Republicans. Black and Latino residents were more concerned with climate change than white respondents. Residents report that they are accepting certain solutions, such as recycling, at a time in which people are being asked to do more for the climate crisis. Other tactics, like buying an electric car or replacing fossil fuel in their homes, seem out of reach.
Nancy Herriott, a physician’s assistant from Duxbury who was among the respondents who thinks climate poses a “somewhat” serious problem for Massachusetts, said It is difficult to keep hold of feelings of urgency. “For me, it sort of fluctuates, month by month,” said Herriott, a Democrat-leaning independent who said she adores Governor Charlie Baker. “When serious weather patterns are in the news, it feels more real, more urgent. Then it dies down and we get back to our usual weather patterns, and I think, maybe it isn’t as dire as the news media is saying.”
Which isn’t to say that she doesn’t worry. “I do feel some urgency,” she said, “but it’s like most human nature, if it isn’t affecting us personally, it doesn’t feel as pressing as some other issues.”
The crisis has been simmering for decades but UN reports in 2021-2022 indicate that it is at a boiling point. In order to avoid the worst of climate change, the UN reports that global emissions must be reduced by 45 percent by the end of the decade — but instead, they are projected to rise by nearly 14 percent. “We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said last month.
To meet the state’s goal of reducing emissions by 50% from 1990s levels by 2030, Massachusetts will need to have a number of things happen simultaneously. These include the expansion of clean energy on our electrical grid, conversion of buildings from fossil fuels, and electrification of transportation.
Edwood Haynesworth (a Roxbury resident at 69) reported seeing significant changes. “I’m not used to this type of flooding here in Boston, at the MBTA and Aquarium area,” he said, adding that it was unlike anything he’d experienced in his lifetime in the area.
Haynesworth was among the 57 percent of Black respondents who said that climate change poses a very serious problem for the state — a full nine percentage points higher than the overall figure. It was also a very serious problem for 60 percent of Latino respondents. These numbers are consistent with the trend. National pollsThese data show that Blacks and Latinos are more concerned about climate change than whites.
Another respondent, Norberto Perez, a 41-year-old IT director who lives in Middlesex County, said he’s felt the impacts of climate change via the worsening of pollen, which scientists Have you found? is increasing and starting earlier than it did 30 years ago — kicking off allergy season around Valentine’s Day instead of St. Patrick’s Day.
“I’ve never had asthma issues or breathing issues” before, he said. “But over the last few years, I have been absolutely suffering.”
Perez said that he has taken many measures to combat climate change in his home. Like 79 percent of respondents, he recycles, and he’s among the 62 percent who adjusts his thermostat to save energy. Perez is also among a smaller group — 28 percent — who composts. He does not vote based upon his climate priorities.
“It’s not because I wouldn’t,” he said. “It’s because there are so many other issues going on right now. It makes it difficult to just focus on that one thing.”
Only 34 percent of the residents polled indicated that they vote based upon climate priorities. This number rises to 47% if you exclude Democrats. MassINC’s Parr stated that the numbers are surprising given that 66 per cent of Democrats ranked climate as their top-three issue.
“There just aren’t a lot of single-issue voters on climate right now,” Parr said. “Which is not to say that you’re voting against climate. You might be voting for someone who is good on climate, but the main reason you’re voting for them is something else.”
When she goes to vote, Vicki DiLorenzo, a 34-year-old graduate student in East Boston, said she doesn’t choose specifically on climate because she doesn’t have to. “Where I live, basically every candidate is centering climate in their platform,” said DiLorenzo, who worked on Michelle Wu’s successful campaign for mayor.
In the next four-years, 29 percent of respondents will have responded. They might install heat pumps, or already have them. 32 percent of respondents said they might install solar panel or already have solar panels.
Steven Raposo was one of those who installed solar panels and switched to an electric vehicle. Raposo, a Bristol County resident, said that he did not take these steps to protect the climate. He is among the 44 percent of Republicans who said he thinks climate change is a low priority and he described the issue as a “big hoax.”
“They keep saying that we have 10 more years on the planet before it’s, like, devastating,” he said. “And it’s like, ‘No, you keep saying that. You’ve been saying that longer than I’ve been alive.’”
44% of respondents indicated that they are very or somewhat likely, for their next car, to lease or purchase an electric vehicle. 73% stated that they would prefer to walk for trips of less than a mile.
But this question — of how much individuals must do, compared with what must happen at the state or federal policy level — is an emotional one. Interviewees indicated that some people doubt that their individual actions will be sufficient.
Mary Freeman, Lynnfield, stated that she would buy an electric car if the incentives were right. “But in my opinion, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The way I look at it, I don’t think that burden of responsibility should be pushed down to the individual because that is not what’s going to make an impact.”
In the end, the solution to climate change won’t be about individual action or decisions at the policy and corporate levels — it will be about both, said Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
“The problem with climate change is that the sum of our individual actions are going to be grossly insufficient to deliver the systemic changes that we need, and this is more like marshaling a response to a war,” she said. “You can’t fight a war with 350 million people each doing their own thing.”
This report was contributed by David Abel, Globe staff.