Latter-day Saints among the least worried about climate change. Does that really match their religion?

New study shows deep skepticism, including on the part humans play in global warming, but the overwhelming majority of members believe God wants them to care for the Earth.

(Charlie Riedel | AP) Emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Independence, Mo., in 2021. A new study shows Latter-day Saints remain skeptical about climate change and the role humans play in it.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among the least concerned about climate change when compared to other religious groups in the United States, according to a new PRRI study.

Based on responses from 5,192 adults representing a range of religious and nonreligious backgrounds, the report also shows Latter-day Saints are some of the most likely to attribute the growing crisis to natural patterns in the environment — despite overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is to blame.

In all, just 10% of Latter-day Saints say they are worried about climate change, with close to half (44%) placing the blame for it on natural phenomena. Some 8% say there is no solid evidence climate change is happening in the first place.

The margin of error for the overall survey is plus or minus 1.62 percentage points.

In adopting these views, are Latter-day Saints reflecting their political perspectives, their news consumption, or specific religious values?

The impact of party loyalty and news sources

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Historically, Latter-day Saints rank among the most reliably Republican religious groups in the United States. And while that appears to be changing in the case of younger believers, a substantial majority remain firmly in the GOP camp. The fact no doubt plays a major role in believers’ views of climate change, particularly given that, according to the PRRI study, fewer than a third of Republicans say climate change is caused by humans, compared with 83% of Democrats and 64% of independents.

American members of the Utah-based church are also among some of the most reliable watchers of Fox News, according to a recent analysis of 2022 data by political scientist Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University. In all, 54% of responding Latter-day Saints say they had watched the channel in the past 24 hours. This, too, is a likely factor for shaping members’ views of climate change, the PRRI study finds, since fewer than a third of those who most trust Fox News believe humans are the cause.

Factoring in religiosity

Besides skewing conservative and pro-Fox News, Latter-day Saints also tend to display a high degree of commitment to their faith when compared to other groups, with Burge showing that church attendance among Latter-day Saints is, at 64%, higher than almost every other U.S. religious group.

Sure enough, the new PRRI study shows that 39% of Americans who say religion is the most important thing in their lives believe humans are to blame for climate change, compared to 78% of those who say religion is not important to them.

An emphasis on ‘environmental stewardship’

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé speaks about the importance of environmental protection at General Conference in 2022.

Environmental advocate George Handley, a humanities professor at church-owned Brigham Young University, says the lack of alarm among religious Americans regarding climate change doesn’t surprise him. The eye-opener for him is how low his fellow Latter-day Saints rank when compared to other people of faith.

The Provo City Council member has been teaching, writing and speaking about environmental issues for 25 years. During that time, he has witnessed a tremendous shift in his students and Utah politicians, many of whom are Latter-day Saints, when it comes to their interest on the subject.

All these changes have corresponded with a greater emphasis among church leaders on the subject. This includes a 2018 address by Steven Snow, now an emeritus general authority Seventy, at Utah State University in which he affirmed “climate change is real, and it’s our responsibility as stewards to do what we can to limit the damage done to God’s creation.”

Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, speaking in General Conference in 2022, called on the faithful worldwide to “use the bountiful resources of the Earth more reverently and prudently,” an instruction echoed in a speech delivered earlier this year by his first counselor, W. Christopher Waddell, at the University of Utah.

And, in a 2017 address at BYU-Hawaii, apostle Dallin H. Oaks, now a member of the governing First Presidency and next in line to lead the global faith, warned of the rising ocean levels posed to coastal cities and noted that “global warming is also affecting agriculture and wildlife.”

He didn’t weigh in on what role humans play in climate change.

Even so, Latter-day Saints appear to be taking note, if not of the reality of climate change itself, then at least in the need to care for the planet. More than three-fourths (84%) — higher than any other group in the PRRI study — of Latter-day Saints say “living up to our God-given role as stewards to take care of the Earth” is either extremely or very important.

Indeed, Handley stresses that, when compared to other Christian traditions, the Salt Lake City-headquartered faith has some of the most detailed teachings regarding environmental stewardship. It has a webpage devoted to the topic, though it doesn’t refer to climate change. Handley says any adherents who don’t believe it is real, or that their faith doesn’t call on them to act, are “taking their cues from their political affiliation,” not their religious one.

Nevertheless, Handley remains convinced that, at least overall, Latter-day Saints are far less “polarized on this issue than they used to be.”