Predictors of climate change awareness and risk perception vary around the globe

July 27, 2015

AMHERST, Mass. - Using data from the largest cross-sectional survey of climate change perceptions ever conducted, researchers writing in Nature Climate Change today report the first global assessment of factors underlying climate change awareness and risk perception. They say results indicate that to be most effective, climate-related messages must be tailored to public awareness and perceptions specific to each nation.

Co-author Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC), says, "Overall, we find that about 40 percent of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change. 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."

Ezra Markowitz at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with Tien Ming Lee of Columbia University, Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale and others at Utah State University, say that worldwide, education level is the single strongest predictor of climate change awareness and that understanding the human causes of climate change is the strongest predictor of risk perception, "particularly in Latin America and Europe, whereas perception of local temperature change is the strongest predictor in many African and Asian countries," they write.

The researchers analyzed data from nationally representative samples of 119 countries collected for the Gallup World Poll conducted in 2007 and 2008.

Markowitz, an assistant professor in the environmental conservation department at UMass Amherst, says, "It was interesting to uncover these differences across countries, but in some ways one of the most insightful outcomes is the reminder that what motivates one person to engage with this issue is not necessarily the same as what motivates the next person."

He adds, "Although this is not a revolutionary insight, it is important for communicators and others to keep in mind. Advocates would love a one-size-fits-all approach to climate communication because it would be easier and cheaper, but it is not the most effective strategy; people are too diverse in what connects them to this issue. For communicators this is an important message."

The huge data set included several questions about awareness of climate change and perceptions of how serious a threat it is to respondents and their families. The researchers analyzed responses in relation to such variables as gender, age, religion, education, geographical location, finances, well-being, beliefs about climate change, civic engagement, media habits and satisfaction with local air and water quality. They divided respondents into those "aware" or "unaware" of climate change and call the contrast between developed and developing countries "striking." In North America, Europe and Japan, more than 90 percent of the public is aware of climate change, but in many developing countries relatively few are aware of the issue, though many do report having observed changes in local weather patterns.

Markowitz points out that the team used statistical techniques not usually applied to social science research to allow them to conduct a powerful two-level analysis that yielded the most predictive variables by country. Using non-metric multidimensional scaling plus a conditional inference classification tree model allowed them to see the diversity of predictors by country, he adds, and "missing data is less of a problem using this approach. You get to keep more variables for more countries in the analysis, providing a more complete picture of what's going on."

"This allowed us to see, for example, that the most important predictors in China are not the same as in the United States," Markowitz says. Among the factors most important for predicting Americans' awareness of climate change was civic engagement, more access to media and higher education, while in China the strongest predictors were education, urban rather than rural residence and household income, the team reports.

For risk perception, among the strongest predictors in the U.S. were beliefs about human influence on the climate, perception of whether local temperatures have changed and attitudes to government involvement in environmental preservation. In China, among the strongest predictors of concern was dissatisfaction with local air quality.
This work was supported by YPCCC and the Earth Institute Fellows Program at Columbia University.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to