Public opinion on climate change
Public opinion on climate change is the aggregate of attitudes or beliefs held by the adult population concerning the science, economics, and politics of global warming. It is affected by media coverage of climate change.
Influences on individual opinion
A 2007–2008 Gallup Poll surveyed individuals in 128 countries. This poll queried whether the respondent knew of global warming and, for those who were aware of the issue, whether or not they thought it was human-induced. Over a third of the world's population were unaware of global warming, with developing countries less aware than developed, and Africa the least aware. Of those aware, residents of Latin America and developed countries in Asia lead the belief that climate change is a result of human activities while Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, and a few countries from the former Soviet Union lead in the opposite. Opinion within the United Kingdom is divided. Opinions in the United States vary intensely enough to be considered a culture war.
Adults in Asia, with the exception of those in developed countries, are the least likely to perceive global warming as a threat. In the western world, individuals are the most likely to be aware and perceive it as a very or somewhat serious threat to themselves and their families; although Europeans are more concerned about climate change than those in the United States. However, the public in Africa, where individuals are the most vulnerable to global warming while producing the least carbon dioxide, is the least aware – which translates into a low perception that it is a threat.
These variations pose a challenge to policymakers, as different countries travel down different paths, making an agreement over an appropriate response difficult. While Africa may be the most vulnerable and produce the least greenhouse gases, they are the most ambivalent. The top five emitters (China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan), who together emit half the world's greenhouse gases, vary in both awareness and concern. The United States, Russia, and Japan are the most aware at over 85% of the population. Conversely, only two-thirds of China and one-third of India are aware. Japan expresses the greatest concern, which translates into support for environmental policies. China, Russia, and the United States, while varying in awareness, have expressed a similar proportion of aware individuals concerned. Similarly, those aware in India are likely to be concerned, but India faces challenges spreading this concern to the remaining population as its energy needs increase over the next decade.
In countries varying in awareness, an educational gap translates into a gap in awareness. However an increase in awareness does not always result in an increase in perceived threat. In China, 98% of those who have completed four years or more of college education reported knowing something or a great deal of climate change while only 63% of those who have completed nine years of education reported the same. Despite the differences in awareness in China, all groups perceive a low level of threat from global warming. In India those who are educated are more likely to be aware, and those who are educated there are far more likely to report perceiving global warming as a threat than those who are not educated. However, a survey of American adults found that "as respondents’ science-literacy scores increased, concern with climate change decreased [slightly]", and that cultural values are a much better determinant of opinions on global warming than education.
In Europe, individuals who have attained a higher level of education perceive climate change as a serious threat. There is also a strong association between education and Internet use. Europeans who use the Internet more are more likely to perceive climate change as a serious threat.
Residential demographics affect perceptions of global warming. In China, 77% of those who live in urban areas are aware of global warming compared to 52% in rural areas. This trends is mirrored in India with 49% to 29% awareness, respectively.
Of those countries where at least half the population are aware of global warming, those with the greatest proportion believing that global warming is due to human activities spend more on energy.
In Europe, individuals under fifty-five are more likely to perceive both "poverty, lack of food and drinking water" and climate change as a serious threat than individuals over fifty-five. Male individuals are more likely to perceive climate change as a threat than female individuals. Managers, white collar workers, and students are more likely to perceive climate change as a greater threat than house persons and retired individuals.
In the United States, support for environmental protection was relatively non-partisan in the past. Republican Theodore Roosevelt established national parks whereas Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Soil Conservation Service. This non-partisanship began to erode during the 1980s when the Reagan administration described environmental protection as an economic burden. Views over global warming began to seriously diverge between Democrats and Republicans during the negotiations that led up to the creation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1998. In a 2008 Gallup poll of the American public, 76% of Democrats and only 41% of Republicans said that they believed global warming was already happening. The gap between the opinions of the political elites, such as members of Congress, tends to be even more polarized.
In Europe, opinion is not strongly divided among left and right parties. Although European political parties on the left, and Green parties, strongly support measures to address climate change, conservative European political parties maintain similar sentiments, most notably in Western and Northern Europe. For example, France's center-right President Chirac pushed key environmental and climate change policies in France in 2005–2007, and conservative German administrations (under the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union) in the past two decades have supported European Union climate change initiatives. In the period after former President Bush announced that the United States was leaving the Kyoto Treaty, European media and newspapers on both the left and right criticized the move. The conservative Spanish La Razón, the Irish Times, Irish Independent, the Danish Berlingske Tidende, and the Greek Kathimerini all condemned the Bush administration's decision along with left-leaning newspapers.
In Norway, a 2013 poll conducted by TNS Gallup found that 92% of those who vote for the Socialist Left Party and 89% of those who vote for the Liberal Party believe that global warming is caused by humans, while the percentage who held this belief is 60% among voters for the Conservative Party and 41% among voters for the Progress Party.
The shared sentiments between the political left and right on climate change further illustrate the divide in perception between the United States and Europe on climate change. As an example, conservative German Prime Ministers Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel have differed with other parties in Germany only on "how to meet emissions reduction targets, not whether or not to establish or fulfill them."
In the United States, ideology is an effective predictor of party identification, where conservatives are more prevalent among Republicans, and moderates and liberals among independents and Democrats. A shift in ideology is often associated with in a shift in political views. For example, when the number of conservatives rose from 2008 to 2009, the number of individuals who felt that global warming was being exaggerated in the media also rose.
||The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2011)|
A scientific consensus on climate change exists, as recognized by national academies of science and other authoritative bodies. The opinion gap between scientists and the public in 2009 stands at 84% to 49% that global temperatures are increasing because of human-activity.
September 2011 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found that Britons (43%) are less likely than Americans (49%) or Canadians (52%) to say that "global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities." The same poll found that 20% of Americans, 20% of Britons and 14% of Canadians think "global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven."
A 2013 poll in Norway conducted by TNS Gallup found that 66% of the population believe that climate change is caused by humans, while 17% do not believe this.
Economic debates weigh the benefits of limiting industrial emissions of mitigating global warming against the costs that such changes would entail. While there is a greater amount of agreement over whether global warming exists, there is less agreement over the appropriate response.
||The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2011)|
The popular media in the U.S. gives greater attention to skeptics relative to the scientific community as a whole, and the level of agreement within the scientific community has not been accurately communicated. US popular media coverage differs from that presented in other countries, where reporting is more consistent with the scientific literature. Some journalists attribute the difference to climate change denial being propagated, mainly in the US, by business-centered organizations employing tactics worked out previously by the US tobacco lobby.
The efforts of Al Gore and other environmental campaigns have focused on the effects of global warming and have managed to increase awareness and concern, but despite these efforts as of 2007, the number of Americans believing humans are the cause of global warming was holding steady at 61%, and those believing the popular media was understating the issue remained about 35%. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of Americans who believe the media under-reports the seriousness of global warming has been increasing, and the number who think media over-states it has been falling. According to a 2013 Gallup US opinion poll, 57% believe global warming is at least as bad as portrayed in the media (with 33% thinking media has downplayed global warming and 24% saying coverage is accurate). Less than half of Americans (41%) think the problem is not as bad as media portrays it.
Public opinion impacts on the issue of climate change because governments need willing electorates and citizens in order to implement policies that address climate change. Further, when climate change perceptions differ between the populace and governments, the communication of risk to the public becomes problematic. Finally, a public that is not aware of the issues surrounding climate change may resist or oppose climate change policies, which is of considerable importance to politicians and state leaders.
A 2009 Eurobarometer survey found that, on the average, Europeans rate climate change as the second most serious problem facing the world today, between "poverty, the lack of food and drinking water" and "a major global economic downturn." 87% of Europeans consider climate change to be a "serious" or "very serious" problem, while 10% "do not consider it a serious problem." However, the proportion who believe it to be a problem has dropped in the period 2008/9 when the surveys were conducted. While the small majority believe climate change is a serious threat, 55% percent believe the EU is doing too little and 30% believe the EU is going the right amount. As a result of European Union climate change perceptions, "climate change is an issue that has reached such a level of social and political acceptability across the EU that it enables (indeed, forces) the EU Commission and national leaders to produce all sorts of measures, including taxes." Despite the persistent high level of personal involvement of European citizens, found in another Eurobarometer survey in 2011, EU leaders have begun to downscale climate policy issues on the political agenda since the beginning of the Eurozone crisis.
The proportion of Americans who believe that the effects of global warming rose to a peak in 2008 and then declined. A similar trend was found regarding the belief that global warming is a threat to their lifestyle within their lifetime. Concern over global warming often corresponds with economic downturns and national crisis such as 9/11 as Americans prioritize the economy and national security over environmental concerns. However the drop in concern in 2008 is unique compared to other environmental issues. Considered in the context of environmental issues, Americans consider global warming as a less critical concern than the pollution of rivers, lakes, and drinking water; toxic waste; fresh water needs; air pollution; damage to the ozone layer; and the loss of tropical rain forests. However, Americans prioritize global warming over species extinction and acid rain issues. Since 2000 the partisan gap has grown as Republican and Democratic views diverge.
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- TNS Opinion and Social 2009, p. 15
- TNS Opinion and Social 2009, p. 21
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