White and Latino Catholics “Living in Different Worlds” On Climate Change

Ahead of Pope Francis’s highly anticipated encyclical on the environment, due out Thursday, Public Religion Research Institute has found a remarkable split between Latino and white Catholics on climate change.

According to data collected for the November 2014 PRRI/AAR Religion, Values and Climate Change Survey, white Catholics (34 percent) in the U.S. are twice as likely as Latino Catholics (15 percent) to question the reality of climate change. Latino Catholics are far more likely (61 percent) than white Catholics (40 percent) to say climate change is caused by human activity, and are much greater believers that climate change is a “crisis” or “major problem” (73 percent) than white Catholics are (53 percent).

Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director, told me the data shows “really dramatic differences between Latinos and white Americans,” representing a “huge gulf between these two groups.”

On climate change, said Cox,  “it’s like they’re living in different worlds.”

Latino Catholics are also more likely than the general population to believe the scientific consensus on climate change, whereas white Catholics are less likely. Forty-eight percent of the American public believes the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. But only 39 percent of white Catholics believe this consensus, while 61 percent of Latino Catholics do. That’s a considerable split between not just Latino Catholics and their white co-religionists, but between Latinos and other Americans.

PRRI’s data also shows that Latinos born outside the United States are more likely to believe that humans cause climate change (65 percent) than Latinos born here (50 percent).

Several factors account for the divide between Latinos and other Americans, and even between Latinos born in the U.S. and Latinos who immigrated here. In Latin American countries, said Cox, other public opinion surveys show the issue of climate change is much more salient and pressing, with their populations more supportive of action to combat it than in the United States and Europe. “There’s a political will to do something about it,” he said, and “those transnational ties are influential to their [Latino immigrants to the U.S.’s] attitudes about it.” Francis, the first Latin American Pope, is from Argentina.

Latino Catholics in the United States are also more likely to hear about climate change at church than their white counterparts, by an eye-popping margin. According to PRRI’s data, 70 percent of Latino Catholics say their clergy speak about climate change at church “at least occasionally,” compared to just 20 percent of white Catholics.

As Laurie Goodstein reports in the New York Times, many U.S. bishops are wary of the forthcoming encyclical, saying they are reluctant to get embroiled in a contested political issue (which seems odd given their enthusiasm for other contested political issues) and because of qualms over allying with environmentalists.

But are the bishops influencing their parishioners, or the other way around?  It is astonishing to discover, via Goodstein’s report, that some bishops “had received hate mail from Catholics skeptical of climate change,” which “has added to the bishops’ hesitation and confusion on the topic.” PRRI’s findings may well suggest that Catholic leadership could gain new perspective from the members of their flocks who, like Pope Francis, hail from a place where the urgency of addressing climate change hasn’t been squelched by political, business, and even religious demagoguery.


  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    This is not much of a catholic issue, or white/latino issue. The question is why so many Americans climate change deniers? Why do they go against the scientific community, and any rational thinking? We know this is tied into Republican interests to keep profits coming as they have been, whatever the cost. Rich people just want their money. Why are conservative Americans so quick to follow the Republican party and energy companies on this issue, with no regard for the damage they cause everyone including themselves?

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    They’re lied to about the scientific consensus on mainstream media outlets. They’re functionally illiterate about the scientific process and have no tools to evaluate the issue on their own. Choosing a stance on climate change amounts to choosing an authority to believe and follow. Catholics in particular migrated to the Republican party over the abortion issue and trust that the baby killers must be the liars. To them the environment is just one more bullshit secularist excuse to be immoral and use birth control and have abortions. That’s why.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    The Republicans lie to the people and get them to believe garbage. Then the Republican politicians look to the people for guidance on how to run the country.

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    They do?

  • phillinj@slu.edu' NancyP says:

    Climate change denial is in part due to a very well orchestrated and funded campaign by the oil and coal industries to inject “doubt” into people’s minds, and in part due to the willingness of people to doubt because it saves them from having to think hard about changing their habits to use less energy and less non-renewable energy. People like their cars with more than necessary power, and like their air-conditioning on 68 rather than 75 F. There’s no social penalty/ disapproval, in fact quite the opposite, for people who own MacMansions and 8 cylinder cars (assuming owner doesn’t specifically need the hauling power or size). People don’t want to feel guilty or uncomfortable, and if one is aware of the issue, there are no guidelines about how much conservation is reasonable for an individual. So, people put their heads in the sand.

  • msprague2002@yahoo.ca' MarkS2002 says:

    Follow the money. Who owns the stocks? Who benefits the most from inaction? This has been the reality for decades, and until the mostly white deniers admit that they are motivated by their selfish interests, Nothing much will change.

  • cookleon@yahoo.com' Cormagh says:

    Perhaps this could be a general harbinger of the strengthening will of American’s to resist church dogma in many areas, and blind obedience to government along with it.

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