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Climate Change Perceptions Vary Between Developed and Developing Countries

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Given the statements on climate change made by many Republican politicians, it is a shock when a Republican presidential candidate states that humans are contributing to climate change. Jeb Bush, a brother to one past president and the son of another, is the candidate who made the statement. His comments highlight the importance of understanding climate change perceptions.

Effective messages about climate change need to focus on public awareness and perceptions that are specific to each country, a recently released study recommends. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is the largest cross-sectional survey of climate change perceptions. Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, it is the first global assessment of climate change awareness.

What researchers found is that “improving basic education, climate literacy and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital to public engagement and support for climate action.”

Researchers analyzed data from representative samples of 119 countries collected for the Gallup World Poll conducted in 2007 and 2008. The data included questions about climate change awareness and perceptions of how serious a threat it is to respondents and their families. The responses were analyzed by researchers based on a number of factors, including gender, age, religion, education, geographical location and finances. Then, researchers divided respondents into two categories: aware or unaware of climate change.

“Overall, we find that about 40 percent of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change,” said co-author Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, in a statement. “This rises to more than 65 percent in some developing countries, like Egypt, Bangladesh, and India. There is still a critical need for basic climate literacy in many countries.”

What they found is a “striking” contrast between developed and developing countries. Over 90 percent of those surveyed in North America, Europe and Japan are aware of climate change, but few are aware in developing countries, even though many reportedly observed changes in local weather patterns. As the researchers wrote, “Climate change is a threat to human societies and natural ecosystems, yet public opinion research finds that public awareness and concern vary greatly.”

They also found interesting contrasts between the perceptions of Americans and Chinese. For example, the most important factors for predicting Americans’ climate change awareness is civic engagement (more access to media and higher education), while in China the most important factors are education, urban rather than rural residence, and household income. When it comes to risk perception, the most important predictors in the U.S. are beliefs about human influence on the climate, the perception of whether local temperatures have changed, and attitudes to government involvement in environmental preservation. In China, the most important predictor is dissatisfaction with local air quality.

It would be interesting to see a follow-up study that analyzes the effectiveness of climate change education. Part of combating climate change is convincing the public of the importance of the issue.

Image credit: Flickr/Takver

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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