People's views on climate change, whether it's their concern about its impact or their willingness to do something about it, have changed in developed countries around the world in recent years, according to one. new survey from Pew Research Center (The Pew Research Center is an American research center that provides statistics and social information in the form of demographics, opinion polls, content analysis. Its headquarters are in Washington, DC and its operations are funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts) 1
In this study, 16,000 adults were interviewed in 17 countries considered to be advanced economies. Many of these countries have made significant contributions to climate change and are expected to lead the way in addressing it.
In general, the survey found that a majority of people are concerned about global climate change and are ready to make lifestyle changes to reduce its effects.
However, beneath this general pattern lie more complicated trends, such as doubt that the international community can effectively reduce climate change and deep ideological divisions that may hamper the transition to a cleaner energy and a climate-friendly world. The survey also reveals a significant disconnect between people's attitudes and the enormity of the challenge posed by climate change.
Here's what stood out as professionals as we study the public's response to climate change.
Strong concern and willingness to act
In all of the countries surveyed at the start of 2021 except Sweden, between 60% and 90% of citizens said they felt somewhat or very concerned about the damage they would personally suffer as a result of climate change. Although there was a marked increase in concerns in several countries between 2015, when Pew conducted the same survey, and 2021, that number has not changed significantly in the United States .
Likewise, in all countries except Japan, at least 7 in 10 people said they were willing to make some or a lot of changes in the way they live and work to help tackle global climate change.
In most countries, young people were much more likely than older generations to report higher levels of concern both about climate change and the willingness to change their behaviors.
Perceptions of government responses
Obviously, globally people are very concerned about this existential threat and are ready to change their daily behaviors to mitigate its impacts. However, just focusing on changing individual behaviors will not stop global warming.
In the United States, for example, about 74% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels. People can switch to driving electric vehicles or take electric buses and trains, but these still need electricity. Lobbying utilities to switch to renewable energy requires climate change at the policy level, both nationally and internationally.
When we examine people's attitudes about how their own country deals with climate change and the effectiveness of international actions, the results paint a more complex picture.
On average, most people rated their own government's management of climate change as "fairly good", with the highest approval numbers in Sweden, the UK, Singapore and New Zealand. However, the data shows that such positive reviews are not really justified. The 2020 UN Emissions Gap Report found that greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase. Many countries, including the United States, are expected to miss their emission reduction targets by 2030; and even if all countries meet their targets, annual emissions must be reduced much more to meet the targets set by the Paris climate agreement.
When it comes to confidence in international actions to tackle climate change, survey respondents were generally more skeptical. Although the majority of people in Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea and Singapore felt confident that the international community can significantly reduce climate change, most respondents in the rest of the countries studied did not. not done. France and Sweden had the lowest levels of trust, with more than 6 in 10 people not being convinced.
Taken together, these results suggest that people generally believe that climate change is a problem that can be solved by individuals and governments. Most people say they are ready to change their lifestyle, but they may not have a clear understanding of the scale of action needed to effectively tackle global climate change. Overall, people may be overly optimistic about their own country's ability and commitment to reduce emissions and tackle climate change, while underestimating the value and effectiveness of international actions. .
These perceptions may reflect the fact that debates around climate change have so far been dominated by calls to change individual behavior rather than stressing the need for collective and political action. Closing these gaps is an important goal for those working in climate communication and trying to increase public support for stronger national policies and international collaborations.
Deep ideological divide in climate attitudes
As with most surveys of attitudes to climate change, the new Pew report reveals a deep ideological divide in several countries.
It is perhaps not surprising that the United States displays the highest level of ideological differences on all but one issue. In the United States, 87% of Liberals are somewhat or very concerned about the personal harm caused by climate change, compared to only 28% of Conservatives - a clear difference of 59 points. This difference persists for the desire to change one's lifestyle (difference of 49 points), the evaluation of the management of climate change by the government (difference of 41 points) and the perceived economic impacts of international actions (difference of 41 points). ).
And the United States is not alone; great ideological differences were also found in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. In fact, only Australians were more divided than Americans over how their government is handling the climate crisis.
This ideological divide is nothing new, but the extent of the gap between people at both ends of the ideological spectrum is staggering. The differences lie not only in how to deal with the problem or who should be responsible, but also in the extent and severity of climate change in the first place. Such massive and entrenched differences in public understanding and acceptance of scientific facts about climate change will pose significant challenges in enacting much needed policy changes.
A better understanding of the cultural, political and media dynamics that shape these differences could reveal useful information that could facilitate progress towards slowing climate change.
1 - Wikipedia
Kate T. Luong -Postdoctoral Research Fellow, George Mason University
Ed Maibach - Director of Center for Climate Communication, George Mason University
John Kotcher - Assistant Professor of Communications, George Mason University