Tim J Keegan / CC BY 2.0

A new study reveals a staggering global gap in climate-change awareness. According to the journal Nature Climate Change, one in four adults around the world has never heard of climate change, attesting to a stark contrast between rich and poor nations.

The Washington Post reports:

The study focused on two major questions: what factors most influence whether a person is aware of climate change and, for those that know it’s happening, what factors influence how big of a risk that person thinks it poses. The researchers found that, worldwide, education is the biggest predictor of climate change awareness. Major factors that affected a person’s risk perception included understanding that climate change is caused by humans — this was especially true in the Americas and Europe — and noticing local changes in temperature, a particularly high indicator in many countries in Africa and Asia.

The study draws on the Gallup World Poll conducted in 2007 and 2008, which surveyed people from 119 countries around the world. First, the survey classified participants as either aware or unaware of climate change. Then, out of those who were aware, the survey further classified them as believing the risk was serious or not serious. The survey also noted other factors about the participants, such as their beliefs about the cause of climate change, their physical and financial well-being, their access to communication and their beliefs about other environmental issues. The idea was to get a better understanding of the kinds of personal and demographic characteristics that might affect how people view climate change.

While there were some broad trends across the board — the importance of education on climate change awareness, for example — the study points out that people in different countries are likely to be influenced by different factors. The paper includes a comparison of the United States and China, for example, and points out that in this country, the top three predictors of a person’s climate change awareness are his or her civic engagement, access to communication and education, while in China the top three indicators are a person’s education, geographic location (people in urban areas are more likely to be aware of the issue) and income level.

When it comes to perception of how much of a risk climate change poses, people in both countries are strongly influenced by whether they believe climate change is caused by humans or not. But they differ in other ways. Americans are more likely to perceive climate change as a serious risk if they also feel that local temperatures are getting warmer rather than staying the same. And their risk perception also tends to be greater if they are not satisfied with the way their government is dealing with other environmental issues.

Previous studies have also shown that attitudes in the U.S. tend to be highly influenced by partisanship — that is, by the political party a person identifies with. But senior author Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, cautions that political systems differ in vast ways around the world, and partisanship may not be a good indicator of risk perception in all places. In China, for instance, the study found that people were likely to perceive climate change as a greater risk if they also felt that the quality of their air and water was poor — a result that highlights the importance of local issues on many people’s worldviews.

These differences suggest, most importantly, that countries will require unique approaches when it comes to educating people on climate change. While educational campaigns will likely be the most impactful interventions across the board, more country-specific research could be useful “to better understand the wide-ranging cultural components that contribute to both how climate change is perceived, and what behavioural and policy responses are supported,” writes Debbie Hopkins, a researcher at the University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability in New Zealand, in a commentary about the paper, also published Monday in Nature Climate Change.

Read the full article here.

–Posted by Roisin Davis


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