U.S. Christians' concerns about the environment and climate change haven't shifted much in the past two decades, despite a push by some religious leaders to increase attention on the issue, a new study finds.
In fact, Christians' views may be reversing course since the 1990s, according to David Konisky, an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the study's author.
"Not only has there not been an amplification of concern among Christians about the environment, there's seemingly been a decline, at least over the time period I've been studying," he said.
Konisky's work is part of a decadeslong debate both in academia and among religious leaders about the degree that Christianity is a positive or negative influence on people's attitudes on climate change. His study comes as some researchers have suggested there has been a "greening of Christianity" in recent years, as high-profile religious leaders like Pope Francis have made climate change a higher priority within the faith. Konisky wanted to find out whether this "organizational-level" emphasis on caring for the planet was having an impact on the attitudes of individual Christians.
Konisky said he wasn't necessarily surprised by the findings.
"It seemed perfectly possible that Christians may be less concerned about the environment than, say, non-religious individuals, but there may have been a growth over time in the level of concern," Konisky said.
To figure out whether there had been a change in attitudes over time, Konisky needed data that consistently tracked attitudes about the environment over a number of years, along with religious affiliation. He found just such a resource in Gallup polling data, which included specific questions on concerns about the environment, pollution and climate change. He analyzed survey responses from 1990, 1991, 1999 and 2005 to 2015.
He found American Christians' concern about the environment had remained the same or declined, and that the degree of concern did not shift based on how often the individuals said they attended church.
His findings were published recently in the journal Environmental Politics. The paper comes as environmental groups are seeking to rally support for environmental regulations at U.S. EPA and other federal agencies that the Trump administration is in the process of unwinding.
The role of religion on shaping beliefs about politically charged issues like climate change has gotten attention under the Trump administration, particularly as President Trump has packed his Cabinet with evangelical Christians.
Konisky noted previous research had shown that political affiliation and ideology were the most important influencers on Americans' attitudes on the environment.
"But once you sort of move past that and think about other characteristics, what you consistently see popping up in empirical research is that religion matters," he said.
Konisky cautioned that there were several limitations to the study. The surveys did not ask detailed questions about which denominations respondents were affiliated with. The research also doesn't provide an answer for why concern may be decreasing.
"What's the explanation for the decline? I can't really say with any certainty because the data don't allow that kind of analysis. There is a lot of future work to be done to figure out what explains these correlations," Konisky said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.