The Economist tweeted over the weekend that “climate change is seen as the biggest global threat.” It cited a recent Pew Research Centre poll of over 45,000 people, where respondents in Brazil, India, Nigeria, Mexico, and China ranked climate change as their greatest fear. They represent about half of the countries polled. People in developed countries like Japan, France, the United States, and Britain ranked the Islamic State as their greatest fear; climate change did not even place second. Interesting data on the U.S., for it looks to run counter to January 2015 poll data from Stanford University and the New York Times that showed “an overwhelming majority of the American public” (2/3) supports government action to curb global warming.
Today’s Washington Post featured a new study published in Nature Climate Change that adds texture to the Pew results. Focused on the gobal population’s understanding of climate change and the risks it poses, the WaPo headline shouts that “40% of adults on Earth have never heard of climate change.” Digging a little deeper, we see that of of the 119 countries in the study, people in developed nations had a much higher awareness of climate change than their counterparts in the developing world, but that people in the developing world who were aware of climate change perceived its risk to be higher than those in developed nations. Hence one explanation for the Pew poll results.
The study points to variability in national and broader regional perceptions of climate change, including:
* that understanding the anthropogenic cause of climate change is the strongest predictor of climate change risk perceptions, particularly in Latin America and Europe, whereas perception of local temperature change is the strongest predictor in many African and Asian countries.
* in the U.S., the top three predictors of a person’s climate change awareness are civic engagement, access to communication, and education, while in China, the top three indicators are a person’s education, geographic location (i.e. urban), and income level.
In the end, the authors conclude that improved education is the key: “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.”