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Surprising Science

World’s Wealthiest Nations Fail to See Climate Change as a Threat

With the exception of Japan.

Climate change will affect us all in different ways. Yet, a new study has found that not everyone is as apathetic about climate change as some Americans — public opinion and attention to this very real issue varies widely from country to country. 

Researchers write in a paper published in Nature Climate Change that they surveyed people from 119 countries to “determine the relative influence of socio-demographic characteristics, geography, perceived well-being, and beliefs on public climate change awareness and risk perceptions at national scales.” They asked participants what they know about climate change and whether or not they consider it a threat.

The wealth of a nation was a good predictor of understanding what climate change is. The researchers reported that a majority of people in the US, UK, Australia, and most of Europe were aware of it (around 75 percent). However, while public awareness was high, in some cases, just over half of those polled from these same countries perceived climate change as a threat. The findings indicate an issue with how the message is being received.

To explain this hubris is Dr. Debbie Hopkins, a social scientist at the University of Otago, who explained in an interview with The Guardian:

“In many developed countries we have confidence in our adaptive capacity. We think we can adapt and cope, and in many ways we can do so more than developing economies.”

Gina McCarthy, the head of the nation’s top environmental agency, has a different opinion. She says that some of the fault is on the media. We’re giving climate change deniers the same airtime as scientists — this isn’t a discussion of what’s true; it’s a discussion of what should be done.

Japan may be one of the only wealthy nations that understands and feels threatened by climate change.

On the other side of this divide are countries in South America, as well as countries such as Mexico, India, and Tanzania — all of them share concern over climate change in a big way. Around 90 percent of those surveyed perceived it as a threat to their well-being. The researchers explain that both education and perception of shifting temperatures play a major role in deciding climate change’s risk. They write:

“Worldwide, educational attainment is the single strongest predictor of climate change awareness. 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.”

These results “highlight the need to develop tailored climate communication strategies for individual nations. The results suggest that 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.”

Researchers have been working on ways to make people understand the gravity of climate change. A recent study was successful in finding ways to frame the climate change issue to make people more accepting of environmental policies.

Read more at The Guardian or read the full study in Nature Climate Change.

Photo Credit:  Larry French / Stringer/ Getty


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