Research

STUDY: In 2022, more people believe in climate change than ever...but only 35% of people are preparing for it

3 out of 4 Americans now believe in climate change

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The Zebra recently surveyed Americans who rent or own homes to see how much they worried about climate change and the weather-related diasters that come along with it as well as how much they were preparing.

We also conducted a similar climate change survey back in early 2020. It’s fair to say a lot has happened since then. 

A global pandemic notwithstanding, 2020 was a record-breaking year for extreme weather. There were 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters across the United States, shattering the previous annual record of 16 events, and leading to a combined $95 billion in damages. In 2021, the U.S. experienced another turbulent year with an additional 20 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters. 

Comparing Americans’ perceptions about climate change and disaster preparedness, then and now, led to some surprising results. Here’s what we learned.

Key findings

  • 3 out of 4 people now believe in climate change
  • Concern about natural disasters decreased by 20%
  • Americans are less prepared for severe weather events
  • People are increasingly unsure how climate change is affecting their insurance coverage

3 out of 4 people believe in climate change

The number of Americans who answered that they believe in climate change went up significantly from the previous survey. In 2020, it was 65% of respondents, and in 2022 that grew to 74%. 

While 3 out of 4 of the general population believes in climate change, there are some stark differences across demographics. For example, as age increases, belief in climate change decreases. Only 2 out of 3 Boomers believe in climate change, versus a whopping 4 out of 5 of Gen Z. Women were also more likely to believe in climate change than men.

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Belief in climate change also varied based on region. The Northeast had the highest percent of people believing in climate change (81%) and the South had the lowest (69%).

Only 2 out of 3 Boomers believe in climate change, versus a whopping 4 out of 5 of Gen Z.

Concern about natural disasters decreased by 20%

People concerned severe storms or natural disasters will damage property

Based on more of the population believing in climate change combined with the last two years of increasingly expensive and devastating extreme weather events, we would expect to see concern about natural disasters also on the rise. 

Instead, we found the opposite to be true. Nearly half of people answered that they were not concerned that a severe storm or natural disaster (flood, wildfire, hurricane, tornado, hail storm) would damage their home or vehicle. That number was down a solid 20% from when the same question was asked on our survey two years years ago.

The number of people who believed that climate change was causing more frequent and severe storms also went down. 59% of people believe climate change is causing more frequent or severe weather where they live, compared to 65% of people in 2020.

When we asked which natural disasters people were most concerned about, “severe thunderstorms” was the most commonly answered. In fact, concern for thunderstorms increased over the 2020 survey. Concern about wildfires also doubled from the previous survey two years ago. 

Interestingly, the number of people who were most concerned with tornadoes, hurricanes and floods all went down. This is despite the fact that 2020 was a record breaking year producing 30 named storms. Then in 2021, Hurricane Ida, the second costliest storm in U.S. history occurred. Both 2020 and 2021 also saw a leap in tornadoes. 

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Americans have actually become less prepared for severe weather events

When asked what specific steps they had taken to prepare for severe storms or natural disasters, 35% of people said they had taken no steps to prepare (up from 15% in 2020). In fact, every potential preparation that was asked about from making a disaster plan to increasing home insurance coverage, had fewer respondents having done them, usually by a decrease of around 10%.

What steps have you taken to prepare for severe weather_

The most frequently selected step people had taken was preparing emergency home supplies, followed by storing copies of important documents. 

Yet again, there were differences based on geographies. 44% of California respondents had taken no steps to prepare for severe weather or natural disasters, versus 26% of Florida residents.

When asked what specific steps they had taken to prepare for severe storms or natural disasters, 35% of people said they had taken no steps to prepare (up from 15% in 2020).

People are increasingly unsure how climate change is affecting their insurance

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When it comes to insurance as a means to protect people’s homes and vehicles from severe weather events, one thing is clear — people are increasingly unsure of how climate change is affecting their insurance.

Slightly less than half of people believe climate change is causing their insurance rates to increase. Interestingly, both the number of people who agreed and disagreed with that statement decreased compared to two years ago. What increased was the number of people who were unsure of the impact.

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Compared to two years ago, fewer consumers worried they were underinsured or didn’t have the right insurance to protect their residents; however, the number of people who were unsure if they could afford the necessary insurance increased. 

When it comes to using their insurance to help with disaster related home damage, consumers are increasingly likely to use their home insurance compared to two years ago. That said, 65% of consumers who experienced disaster-related home damage did not file a claim, and of those that did 20% did not see their claim fully covered.

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How to prepare for extreme weather

Even though fewer people are preparing, climate scientists warn that extreme weather is likely only going to become more prevalent as the global climate rises. 

To prepare for the next major event, experts suggest that you: 

Know your risks 

  • Understand what severe storms and natural disasters could impact you where you live. You can check your risk for flooding via FEMA flood maps, but remember that low-risk areas can still see catastrophic events. 
  • Check your insurance coverage so you know which events you’re financially protected against — and which ones aren’t covered. While you’re at it, check your policy limits and coverage details. You don’t want to be surprised to find out after the storm that you’re not covered to replace your stuff or rebuild your home. 

Get prepared 

  • Create a home inventory and store it online or in a safe location away from your home. Use whatever method is best for you — a smartphone app, printed checklist or a photo or video record of every room (including the basement and garage). 
  • Discuss your disaster plan with your family and build an emergency kit. Consider special supplies you might need for pets, young children and senior members of your family.
  • Do what you can to reduce your risk. Remove hazards like dead tree limbs and brush from your property. Consider adding storm shutters or hardier roofing to your home. If severe weather is in the forecast, try to protect your car with covered parking.
  • If you’re concerned your home, car or personal belongings aren’t adequately protected, take time now to buy or increase insurance coverage. It takes 30 days for most flood insurance policies to take effect. When a storm is on the horizon, it’s usually too late.

Methodology

The Zebra conducted a consumer survey with panel provider Maru Blue in March 2022. The general population sample size was 935. The census was balanced for age, gender and region. 

All participants had to be over 18 years of age and U.S. residents. 

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The Zebra is an independent insurance advisor and quote comparison site with headquarters in Austin, Texas. Utilizing its real-time quote comparison tool, The Zebra partners with companies such as Allstate, Liberty Mutual, and Progressive to help consumers browse pricing, coverage, and service level for both home and auto insurance policies.