A new study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) looks at the views of American Catholics on climate justice.

The study is based on a national poll of self-identified Catholics, in the United States, ages 18 and older that took place in December 2023.

The poll was conducted electronically in December 2023.

CARA says one tenth (11 percent) of those polled indicated that they “know well” what environmental justice is about and one third (32 percent) indicated that “they have a general sense of what it is about.” By comparison, 32 percent “heard about it but do not know what it is about” and 25 percent “have never heard about it.”

The study also said three-in-five (61 percent) came across the topic of environmental justice, in the past three months, in a Catholic venue such as Mass, Catholic website, book, or magazine; seven-in-ten (72 percent) say they believe that environmental justice is a legitimate issue that needs urgent attention, as compared to 28 percent who believe that it is “false.”

Pope Francis has made climate issues a center point of his papacy. In 2015, he devoted an entire encyclical to the matter, called Laudato Si’, in which he cited scientific consensus that the Earth is warming due to human activity.

In October of last year, the pope released the document Laudate Deum, in which he goes after the citizens of richer countries and the “irresponsible lifestyle” of the developed world.

“If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact,” Francis writes.

The CARA document takes a closer look at American Catholics attitudes to the beliefs of the pope.

The CARA survey saw that three-in-five (62 percent) are concerned that climate change will harm them personally at some point in their life, as compared to 38 percent who are not concerned.

Meanwhile, four-in-five (76 percent) say they believe that they have a moral responsibility to personally do what they can to combat climate change, as compared to 24 percent who do not believe that.

It also found seven-in-ten (69 percent) say they believe that it is “important” or “very important” (as opposed to “not at all important” or “not too important”) for Catholics to engage in environmental justice (including 22 percent who say they believe that it is “very important”.)

CARA’s survey said four-in-five (81 percent) engaged in at least one of the environmental justice-related activities in the past three months. The most common of those activities was reducing waste or actively recycling (practiced by 55 percent of U.S. Catholics), followed by incorporating environmental justice into their decisions as consumers (18 percent) and donating to environmental justice-related causes (18 percent) among other activities.

Among the 81 percent who engaged in at least one of the environmental justice-related activities in the past three months, the survey said two-in-five (44 percent) reported that they were motivated “somewhat” or “very much” (as opposed to “not at all” or “only a little”) by their Catholic beliefs.

Half (54 percent) said they do not believe that “God has played a role in the changes observed to Earth’s climate in recent years,” while the other half (46 percent) said they believe it.

Two-in-five said they believe that their dioceses (44 percent of U.S. Catholics), USCCB (43 percent), their parishes (42 percent), religious orders (42 percent), Catholic nonprofit organizations (40 percent), and they themselves as individuals (38 percent) do “too little” to help reduce the effects of global climate change. One third (31 percent) believe that Pope Francis is doing “too little.”

The report said a quarter (23 percent) said they believe that the Church should not be involved in environmental justice. By comparison, half would like to see the Church engage in environmental justice by educating and raising awareness (46 percent) as well as creating volunteering opportunities (45 percent).

One third (33 percent) heard about Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, as compared to two thirds (67 percent) who did not hear about it.

CARA said the report found significant differences between young adults and older Catholics; Democrats, Republicans, and independents; those who attend Mass frequently and those who attend it rarely or never; Hispanics and other Catholics.