How to Reach the 40 Percent of Global Citizens Who Have Never Heard of Climate Change
As climate communicators, we’re always seeking to better understand what shapes beliefs and opinions about climate change. A new global study helps shed light on this question. Specifically, it explores the factors that contribute to a) climate awareness and b) how big a risk climate change is perceived to be.
As this Washington Post article explains, the study surveyed 119 countries around the world, and found a very strong correlation between education and climate awareness. An astonishing 40 percent of respondents had never heard of climate change – and that number was even higher in certain climate-vulnerable countries like India and Bangladesh. While residents had often noticed climate impacts like heavy rains or higher temperatures, they didn’t necessarily understand the cause.
Developed nations with higher levels of education were more likely to be aware of the issue; however, people in developing nations who were aware believed the risks to be greater. Countries also differed in the factors that influenced their beliefs – in China, for example, urban residents were more likely to be aware of climate change, while in the U.S., civic engagement was a prime indicator.
The study results are a reminder that, while there is no one-size-fits-all climate message, understanding how local values influence climate beliefs can help make climate communications resonate more clearly. And pointing out the connection between local climate impacts and climate change is an effective way to build awareness.
By Chelsea Harvey, contributor to The Washington Post
A major concern for climate activists is figuring out what drives the public’s beliefs about climate change. This information can help scientists better engage with the public and help activists understand what factors are likely to make people take climate change seriously as a threat.
Until now, most research into public attitudes on climate change have focused on Western nations, like the United States, Europe and Australia, leaving scientists with little knowledge of how much awareness there is about climate change in other parts of the world and how people feel about it. But a new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, provides a more inclusive look at the issue, giving scientists greater insight into what factors are most likely to make people care about climate change — if they know it’s happening at all.
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.
Image credit: AP Photo/Andy Wong