Feature Stories


Deborah Fleischer, September 2020


Climate Action in the Time of COVID: How UCSF Compares to the National Pulse

I write this after one of the hottest, triple-digit weekends I have experienced in the Bay Area, with extreme heat followed by an epic thunder and lightning storm that sparked multiple wildfires. The crazy weather and fires highlight a challenge: How do we keep climate action alive in the time of COVID-19? A recent poll of over 9,000 voters and a survey of the UCSF community found that in the midst of the pandemic, climate action is still a priority.

To assess voters’ attitudes toward various climate policies, as well as their experiences with impacts of climate change, Climate Nexus , in partnership with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, conducted a representative survey in June of 9,087 registered voters in the United States. The survey found that as states continue to reopen and coronavirus cases continue to climb, American voters want to see climate action as part of the economic recovery plan. The poll also found voters are more likely to vote for political candidates who support stimulus funding for the renewable energy industry and are less likely to vote for candidates who support financial bailouts for fossil fuel companies.

“The public is eager to see their elected representatives take action against climate change,” said Dr. Edward Maibach, Director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. “Specific, aggressive policies to reduce heat-trapping pollution and protect against climate impacts have widespread support.”

The recent “Open Letter to Candidates” from Climate Health Action Health Professionals makes the following claim:

“Public concern about the climate crisis is actually stronger than ever. Even in the midst of the COVID- 19 crisis that has received 24/7 news coverage for months, a recently released Yale/George Mason University poll shows that two out of three Americans are worried about global warming, and say the issue is personally important to them. Nearly half know that people in the U.S. are harmed now.”

UCSF Compared to National Pulse

The UCSF Office of Sustainability was interested to see how the UCSF community felt compared to the national responses and asked UCSF faculty, staff, and students to answer a shorter, five-question climate action perception survey. There were 283 respondents to the August online survey, approximately 1% of the UCSF population (assumed to be 35,000). Compared to the national attitudes, the UCSF community is significantly more concerned about climate change. “The survey results emphasize that the UCSF community supports climate action at UCSF and believes we should be doing more,” stressed Gail Lee, UCSF Sustainability Director.

More than eight out of 10 (86%) of UCSF faculty, staff, and students surveyed believe climate change is a very serious threat, and 96% believe that the health impacts of climate change are relevant to UCSF’s mission of advancing health worldwide. In comparison, 42% of national voters think climate change is a very serious threat.

In addition, 83% of the UCSF community believes that extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall, flooding, wildfire, and heat waves, are a very serious problem for our state, compared to only 27% nationally. Nationally, 28% of voters felt extreme weather events are not too serious a problem, compared to 2% of the UCSF community.

When it comes to politics, 86.5% of the UCSF community feels it is very important for the US Congress to address climate change. Nationally, 44% of voters feel it is very important and 26% found it not important, while only 5% of the UCSF community found it not important.

At UCSF, 77% of the UCSF community thinks transitioning to a 100% clean economy (eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the transportation, electricity, building, industry, and agricultural sectors) would have a positive impact on jobs and economic growth. Nationally, 58% of voters believe this transition will have a positive impact.

The UCSF poll was conducted August 1-18, 2020 with a representative sample of 283 UCSF community members. The margin of error for the UCSF survey is +/- 6% at the 95% confidence level (assumes a UCSF population of 35,000). The national poll was conducted June 6-11, 2020 with a representative sample of 9,087 registered voters in the United States. The national poll had a +/- 1% margin of error at the 95% confidence level.

The full national report includes many other important findings, including public support for clean water, public lands, agriculture, forestry, and carbon removal policies.

Take Climate Action

Protecting your health is a top priority right now. It is important to remember the link between climate change and health, and to continue to look for ways to reduce carbon emissions. A few easy options for doing your part include:

  • Vote for the Earth: Register to vote and pledge to vote for the Earth. Vote Earth is a helpful resource for learning more. As Michelle Obama stressed in her recent speech, we need to vote like our lives depend on it.
  • Sign up for the UCSF Office of Sustainability Newsletter: Sign up to get monthly tips, resources, and stories.
  • Register for the free NorCal Sustainable Healthcare Symposium: The symposium on September 25, 2020, will educate and empower health care professionals to enact sustainable healthcare practices at their institutions and will address climate change.
  • Read the “Open Letter to Candidates”:  America’s Health Professionals encourage all candidates for election to refocus on climate and its impact on health.