In a complete slap in the face to millions of environmental activists all over the world, a bunch of people just decided to care about climate change because ONE dude told them to. Granted, that dude was Jorge Mario Bergolio, aka Big Man Bergolio, aka his holiness Pope Francis, the chillest Catholic this side of the pearly gates. Seventeen percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics have been influenced by the pope’s position on climate change, according to a new poll.
Glad to hear it, but it still stings the same way it stung back in elementary school, when nobody wanted to play on the monkey bars with you until that one cool kid decided that he wanted to play on the monkey bars, and then suddenly everyone was into it. Researchers call this The Francis Effect (the pope thing, not the monkey bars thing — unless that kid’s name was also Francis). This all started back in June, when the pope released his headline-grabbing encyclical on the urgency of climate change, basically saying that we have a moral obligation to protect the Earth and those poorest among us from this impending catastrophe. And then in September, his holiness brought up climate change again when he came to the U.S. to meet with President Obama, Congress, and the U.N. General Assembly.
Curious about what all this climate change talk from on high was doing to public opinion, researchers at the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication asked a representative group of Americans about their thoughts on climate change, after having already surveyed the same group earlier this spring. And what they found was that The Francis Effect was, indeed, in full effect. Their complete results are available here, but below are some of their key findings:
- “Of those Americans who say they’ve been influenced, half (50 percent) say the Pope’s position on global warming made them more concerned about global warming, while fewer than 1 in 10 (8 percent) say they became less concerned. Among Catholics, the proportions are 53 percent, and 8 percent, respectively.”
- “More Americans overall (+6 points), and more Catholics (+13 points), became very or extremely sure that global warming is happening. There was no change, however, in the number of Americans who believe human activity is causing global warming.”
- “More Americans overall and American Catholics think that people in developing countries (+15 and +17 points, respectively) and the world’s poor (+12 and +20 points, respectively) will be harmed by global warming a great deal or a moderate amount.”
- “More Americans (+9 points), and more Catholics (+13 points), think global warming will harm people in the United States a great deal or a moderate amount.”
- “More Americans (+8 points) and more Catholics (+11 points) have become worried about global warming.”
The pope’s ability to get people to care about something that so many of us have been trying to get people to care about for so long is great news, even if slightly infuriating. Because unlike the monkey bars of our youth, which were no more than a fictional life boat keeping us safe from the “hot lava” covering the playground floor, climate action is an actual life boat that could keep us safe from the world actually going up in flames. So keep fighting the good fight, Frankie. We’ll take all the help we can get.