Views on climate change

Most churchgoers say climate change is happening and steps should be taken to respond

How do church attenders and leaders view issues related to climate change? Should Australia take steps to respond?

Results from the 2016 NCLS reveal that just over half of churchgoers said they thought climate change is happening and is largely human-caused, while just under a third thought it was a natural fluctuation in temperature. Nearly nine in ten churchgoers felt that Australia should take steps to address the problem, almost half (48%) said even if this involves significant cost. Most churchgoers were concerned about the impacts of climate change.  

Over half of churchgoers say climate change is happening and largely human-caused

In the 2016 NCLS, a slim majority of churchgoers (56%) said that they thought climate change is happening and largely human-caused, while approximately three in ten (31%) thought it was a natural fluctuation in Earth's temperatures.  This varied by denomination; approximately six in ten Catholics and Mainstream Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Uniting Church) thought that climate change was largely human-caused, compared with four in ten Other Protestants.   

A similar overall result was observed for senior local church leaders (senior clergy and principal lay leaders in churches with no clergy) - 60% thought climate change was human-caused, and 26% thought it was a natural fluctuation. The denominational differences were greater among leaders than among attenders.  Some three quarters of Catholic and Mainstream Protestant leaders thought that climate change was anthropogenic, resulting from the influence of human beings on nature, compared with around four in ten Other Protestants.  

Nearly nine in ten churchgoers felt Australia should take steps to address the problem

When it came to the question of how Australia should deal with climate change, almost half of church attenders (48%) felt that Australia should take steps now to address the problem, even if this involves significant cost.  Some 38% felt that gradual steps should be taken that are low in cost. In total, almost nine in ten churchgoers affirmed steps of action, whether immediate or gradual, by Australia. Meanwhile 14% felt that no steps should be taken.  It would be interesting to know whether, in the intervening years, given the increasing public profile of the urgency of climate change, support for concerted action on climate change has increased.   

Most churchgoers concerned about impacts of climate change

Churchgoers were also asked to indicate how concerned they were, if at all, about the harmful impacts of climate change on different people or groups - family and friends, other people in Australia, future generations, people living in poor countries and the natural world.  Most people were at least "fairly concerned" about these impacts.  Churchgoers who were more concerned about the impacts on one group tended to be more concerned about impacts on the other groups as well (i.e. the responses tended to be correlated).  The highest levels of concern were expressed for future generations (39% very concerned), people in poor countries (37% very concerned) and the natural world (37% very concerned). 

With the increasing public profile of the urgency of climate change, it remains to be seen whether support for concerted action on climate change increases amongst churchgoers. Certainly in the present time strong views on the Christian moral duty to care for the environment is seen and more detail can be read in our article Views and actions of churchgoers and leaders in caring for the environment. As well, various actions of churchgoers have been reported in both civic environmental activities such as voting, along with consumer environmental activities such as recycling and composting.

Authors:
Kathy Jacka, Miriam Pepper
Data Sources:

Powell, R. Sterland, S. Pepper, M. and Hancock, N. (2016). 2016 NCLS Attender Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.

Powell, R. Sterland, S. Pepper, M. and Hancock, N. (2016). 2016 NCLS Leader Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research. 

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