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Global Poll and Climate Change: Research on Getting Out the Word

Jul 28, 2015 11:19 PM EDT
More powerful hurricanes and other storms are one result of climate change.
A large percentage of the world's adult population does not know about the word and phenomenon climate change, although some of them have noticed changes in local temperature.
(Photo : Flickr: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

In case you think you might bang your head against your desk if you ever again hear the words "global warming," know that whether you hear this (admittedly necessary) information--or not--results from several factors. Worldwide, 40 percent of adults have not heard of climate change--a number which rises to 65 percent in some developing countries, such as Egypt, Bangladesh and India, a research team of universities found in a study recently published in Nature Climate Change.

The researchers, who are from Yale University, Columbia University, Utah State University, Princeton University, The University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Academica Sinica in Taiwan, conducted a poll in 119 countries to calculate the factors that influence climate change awareness and risk perception for 90 percent of the globe's population, according to a release.

They found that in North America, Europe and Japan, more than 90 percent of the public is aware of climate change. While relatively few know the issue by name in many developing countries, many report having observed changes in local weather patterns, the release noted.

Several things determined awareness. For instance, education is the number-one predictor of someone's awareness of climate change. But nations vary in this regard, too: In the United States, key predictors are civic engagement, communication access and education. In China, awareness is associated with education, proximity to urban areas, and household income, the release said.

All that said, in terms of risk assessment, people in developing countries actually perceived climate change as a much greater threat than people in developed countries, a release noted.

The scientists learned that people in Latin America and Europe are more likely to see climate change as a larger threat when they understand that humans are the major cause. But local temperatures are the major association for risk perception in many African and Asian countries, the release noted.

Countries differ in this respect too. For instance, in the U.S., adults are likely to view climate change as a threat when they understand it is human-caused, perceive that local temperatures have changed, and when they support government efforts to preserve the environment. Adults in China, however, view climate change as a greater threat when they understand it is human-caused and when they feel dissatisfied with local air quality, according to the release.

All in all, the researchers note that communicating about climate change threats will require tailored strategies for individual countries, and for areas within the same country, as the release notes.

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @TreesWhales

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