Public opinion on climate change

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Public opinion on climate change is the aggregate of attitudes or beliefs held by the adult population concerning the science, economics, and politics of global warming. It is affected by media coverage of climate change.

Influences on individual opinion

Geographic Region

For a list of countries and their opinion, see Climate change opinion by country.
United States, Europe, and Australia are the darkest while Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania are the lightest.
Proportion reporting knowing "something" or "a great deal" about global warming in 2007–08. Darker areas indicate a greater proportion of individuals aware, yellow indicates no data.
Proportion responding yes when asked, "Temperature rise is part of global warming or climate change. Do you think rising temperatures are [...] a result of human activities?"
Proportion responding that global warming is a serious personal threat

A 2007–2008 Gallup Poll surveyed individuals in 128 countries. This poll queried whether the respondent knew of global warming and, for those who were aware of the issue, whether or not they thought it was human-induced. Over a third of the world's population were unaware of global warming, with developing countries less aware than developed, and Africa the least aware. Of those aware, residents of Latin America and developed countries in Asia led the belief that climate change is a result of human activities while Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, and a few countries from the former Soviet Union led in the opposite. Opinion within the United Kingdom was divided.[1] Opinions in the United States vary intensely enough to be considered a culture war.[2][3] A Gallup poll in 2014 concluded that 51 percent of Americans were a little or not at all worried about climate change, 24 percent a great deal and 25 percent a fair amount.[4]

Adults in Asia, with the exception of those in developed countries, are the least likely to perceive global warming as a threat. In the western world, individuals are the most likely to be aware and perceive it as a very or somewhat serious threat to themselves and their families;[5] although Europeans are more concerned about climate change than those in the United States.[6] However, the public in Africa, where individuals are the most vulnerable to global warming while producing the least carbon dioxide, is the least aware – which translates into a low perception that it is a threat.[5]

These variations pose a challenge to policymakers, as different countries travel down different paths, making an agreement over an appropriate response difficult. While Africa may be the most vulnerable and produce the least amount of greenhouse gases, they are the most ambivalent. The top five emitters (China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan), who together emit half the world's greenhouse gases, vary in both awareness and concern. The United States, Russia, and Japan are the most aware at over 85% of the population. Conversely, only two-thirds of people in China and one-third in India are aware. Japan expresses the greatest concern, which translates into support for environmental policies. People in China, Russia, and the United States, while varying in awareness, have expressed a similar proportion of aware individuals concerned. Similarly, those aware in India are likely to be concerned, but India faces challenges spreading this concern to the remaining population as its energy needs increase over the next decade.[7]

An online survey on environmental questions conducted in 20 countries by Ipsos MORI, "Global Trends 2014", shows broad agreement - especially on climate change and if it is caused by humans, though the U.S. ranked with 54% lowest.[8] It has been suggested that the low U.S. ranking is tied to denial campaigns.[9]


In countries varying in awareness, an educational gap translates into a gap in awareness. However an increase in awareness does not always result in an increase in perceived threat. In China, 98% of those who have completed four years or more of college education reported knowing something or a great deal of climate change while only 63% of those who have completed nine years of education reported the same. Despite the differences in awareness in China, all groups perceive a low level of threat from global warming. In India those who are educated are more likely to be aware, and those who are educated there are far more likely to report perceiving global warming as a threat than those who are not educated.[7] In Europe, individuals who have attained a higher level of education perceive climate change as a serious threat. There is also a strong association between education and Internet use. Europeans who use the Internet more are more likely to perceive climate change as a serious threat.[10] However, a survey of American adults found that "...there is in fact little disagreement among culturally diverse citizens on what science knows about climate change. The source of the climate-change controversy and like disputes over societal risks is the contamination of the science-communication environment with forms of cultural status competition that make it impossible for diverse citizens to express their reason as both collective-knowledge acquirers and cultural-identity protectors at the same time.[11][12][13]


Residential demographics affect perceptions of global warming. In China, 77% of those who live in urban areas are aware of global warming compared to 52% in rural areas. This trends is mirrored in India with 49% to 29% awareness, respectively.[7]

Of those countries where at least half the population are aware of global warming, those with the greatest proportion believing that global warming is due to human activities spend more on energy.[14]

In Europe, individuals under fifty-five are more likely to perceive both "poverty, lack of food and drinking water" and climate change as a serious threat than individuals over fifty-five. Male individuals are more likely to perceive climate change as a threat than female individuals. Managers, white collar workers, and students are more likely to perceive climate change as a greater threat than house persons and retired individuals.[10]

Political identification

In the United States, support for environmental protection was relatively non-partisan in the past. Republican Theodore Roosevelt established national parks whereas Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Soil Conservation Service. US President Richard Nixon was instrumental in founding the United States Environmental Protection Agency and tried to install a third pillar of NATO dealing with environmental challenges as acid rain and greenhouse effect.[15] Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nixons NATO delegate for the topic.[15] After an enthusiastic start on authority level, the then German government reacted sceptical.[15] The topics and the internal coordination and preparation effort however gained momentum in civil conferences and institutions in Germany and beyond during the Brandt government.[15] This non-partisanship began to erode during the 1980s when the Reagan administration described environmental protection as an economic burden. Views over global warming began to seriously diverge between Democrats and Republicans during the negotiations that led up to the creation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1998. In a 2008 Gallup poll of the American public, 76% of Democrats and only 41% of Republicans said that they believed global warming was already happening. The gap between the opinions of the political elites, such as members of Congress, tends to be even more polarized.[16]

In Europe, opinion is not strongly divided among left and right parties. Although European political parties on the left, and Green parties, strongly support measures to address climate change, conservative European political parties maintain similar sentiments, most notably in Western and Northern Europe. For example, Margaret Thatcher, never a friend of the coal mining industry, had been a strong supporter of an active climate protection policy and was instrumental in founding either the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the British Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter.[17] Some speeches, as to the Royal Society on 27 September 1988[18] and to the UN general assembly, in November 1989 helped to put climate change, acid rain and general pollution in the British mainstream in the early eighties. After her career Thatcher however was less of a climate activists as she doubted climate action a "marvelous excuse for supranational socialism," and called Al Gore an "apocalyptic hyperbole".[19] France's center-right President Chirac pushed key environmental and climate change policies in France in 2005–2007. Conservative German administrations (under the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union) in the past two decades have supported European Union climate change initiatives, concern about Forest dieback and acid rain regulation were initiated under Kohls archconservative minister of the interior Friedrich Zimmermann. In the period after former President Bush announced that the United States was leaving the Kyoto Treaty, European media and newspapers on both the left and right criticized the move. The conservative Spanish La Razón, the Irish Times, Irish Independent, the Danish Berlingske Tidende, and the Greek Kathimerini all condemned the Bush administration's decision along with left-leaning newspapers.[20]

In Norway, a 2013 poll conducted by TNS Gallup found that 92% of those who vote for the Socialist Left Party and 89% of those who vote for the Liberal Party believe that global warming is caused by humans, while the percentage who held this belief is 60% among voters for the Conservative Party and 41% among voters for the Progress Party.[21]

The shared sentiments between the political left and right on climate change further illustrate the divide in perception between the United States and Europe on climate change. As an example, conservative German Prime Ministers Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel have differed with other parties in Germany only on "how to meet emissions reduction targets, not whether or not to establish or fulfill them."[20]

Individual risk assessment and assignment

The IPCC attempts to orchestrate global (climate) change research to shape a worldwide consensus.[22] However the consensus approach has been dubbed more a liability than an asset in comparison to other environmental challenges.[23][24] The linear model of policy-making, based on a more knowledge we have, the better the political response will be has not been working and is in the meantime rejected by sociology.[25]

Sheldon Ungar, a Canadian sociologist, compares the different public reactions towards Ozone depletion and global warming.[26] The public opinion failed to tie Climate change to concrete events which could be used as a threashold or beacon to signify immediate danger.[26] Scientific predictions of an temperature rise of two to three degrees Celsius over several decades do not respond with people, e.g. in North America, that experience similar swings during a single day.[26] As Scientists define global warming a problem of the future, a liability in "attention economy", pessimistic outlooks in general and assigning extreme weather to climate change have often been discredited or ridiculed (compare Gore effect) in the public arena.[27] While the greenhouse effect, per se, is essential for life on earth, the case was quite different with the Ozone shield and other metaphors about the ozone depletion. The scientific assessment of the Ozone problem had as well large uncertainties. But the metaphors used in the discussion (ozone shield, ozone hole) reflected better with lay people and their concerns.

The idea of rays penetrating a damaged “shield” meshes nicely with abiding and resonant cultural motifs, including “Hollywood affinities.” These range from the shields on the Starship Enterprise to Star Wars, ... It is these pre-scientific bridging metaphors built around the penetration of a deteriorating shield that render the ozone problem relatively simple. That the ozone threat can be linked with Darth Vader means that it is encompassed in common sense understandings that are deeply ingrained and widely shared. (Sheldon Ungar 2000)[26]

The Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) regulation attempts end of the 1980s profited from those easy to grasp metaphors and the personal risk assumptions taken from them. As well the fate of celebrities like President Ronald Reagan, which had skin cancer removal in 1985 and 1987 was of high importance. In case of the public opinion on climate change no imminent danger is perceived. [26]


In the United States, ideology is an effective predictor of party identification, where conservatives are more prevalent among Republicans, and moderates and liberals among independents and Democrats. A shift in ideology is often associated with in a shift in political views.[28] For example, when the number of conservatives rose from 2008 to 2009, the number of individuals who felt that global warming was being exaggerated in the media also rose.[29]

The pursuit of green energy is an ideology that defines hydroelectric dams, natural gas power plants and nuclear power as unacceptable alternative energies for the eight billion tons of coal burnt each year. While there is popular support for wind, solar, biomass and geothermal even though all these sources combined only supplied 1.3% of global energy in 2013.[30][31]



A scientific consensus on climate change exists, as recognized by national academies of science and other authoritative bodies.[32] The opinion gap between scientists and the public in 2009 stands at 84% to 49% that global temperatures are increasing because of human-activity.[33]

September 2011 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found that Britons (43%) are less likely than Americans (49%) or Canadians (52%) to say that "global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities." The same poll found that 20% of Americans, 20% of Britons and 14% of Canadians think "global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven."[34]

A March 2013 Public Policy Polling poll about widespread and infamous conspiracy theories found that 37% of American voters believe that global warming is a hoax, while 51% do not.[35]

A 2013 poll in Norway conducted by TNS Gallup found that 66% of the population believe that climate change is caused by humans, while 17% do not believe this.[36]


Economic debates weigh the benefits of limiting industrial emissions of mitigating global warming against the costs that such changes would entail. While there is a greater amount of agreement over whether global warming exists, there is less agreement over the appropriate response. Electric or petroleum distribution may be government owned or utilities may be regulated by government. The government owned or regulated utilities may, or may not choose to make lower emissions a priority over economics, in unregulated counties industry follows economic priorities. An example of the economic priority is Royal Dutch Shell PLC reporting CO2 emissions of 81 million metric tonnes in 2013.[37]


The popular media in the U.S. gives greater attention to skeptics relative to the scientific community as a whole, and the level of agreement within the scientific community has not been accurately communicated.[38][39] US popular media coverage differs from that presented in other countries, where reporting is more consistent with the scientific literature.[40] Some journalists attribute the difference to climate change denial being propagated, mainly in the US, by business-centered organizations employing tactics worked out previously by the US tobacco lobby.[41][42][43]

The efforts of Al Gore and other environmental campaigns have focused on the effects of global warming and have managed to increase awareness and concern, but despite these efforts as of 2007, the number of Americans believing humans are the cause of global warming was holding steady at 61%, and those believing the popular media was understating the issue remained about 35%.[44] Between 2010 and 2013, the number of Americans who believe the media under-reports the seriousness of global warming has been increasing, and the number who think media over-states it has been falling. According to a 2013 Gallup US opinion poll, 57% believe global warming is at least as bad as portrayed in the media (with 33% thinking media has downplayed global warming and 24% saying coverage is accurate). Less than half of Americans (41%) think the problem is not as bad as media portrays it.[45]


Public opinion impacts on the issue of climate change because governments need willing electorates and citizens in order to implement policies that address climate change. Further, when climate change perceptions differ between the populace and governments, the communication of risk to the public becomes problematic. Finally, a public that is not aware of the issues surrounding climate change may resist or oppose climate change policies, which is of considerable importance to politicians and state leaders.[46]

Public support for action to forestall global warming is as strong as public support has been historically for many other government actions; however, it is not "intense" in the sense that it overrides other priorities.[46][47]

A 2009 Eurobarometer survey found that, on the average, Europeans rate climate change as the second most serious problem facing the world today, between "poverty, the lack of food and drinking water" and "a major global economic downturn." 87% of Europeans consider climate change to be a "serious" or "very serious" problem, while 10% "do not consider it a serious problem." However, the proportion who believe it to be a problem has dropped in the period 2008/9 when the surveys were conducted.[48] While the small majority believe climate change is a serious threat, 55% percent believe the EU is doing too little and 30% believe the EU is going the right amount.[49] As a result of European Union climate change perceptions, "climate change is an issue that has reached such a level of social and political acceptability across the EU that it enables (indeed, forces) the EU Commission and national leaders to produce all sorts of measures, including taxes."[20] Despite the persistent high level of personal involvement of European citizens, found in another Eurobarometer survey in 2011,[50] EU leaders have begun to downscale climate policy issues on the political agenda since the beginning of the Eurozone crisis.[51]

The proportion of Americans who believe that the effects of global warming have begun or will begin in a few years rose to a peak in 2008 where it then declined, and a similar trend was found regarding the belief that global warming is a threat to their lifestyle within their lifetime.[52] Concern over global warming often corresponds with economic downturns and national crisis such as 9/11 as Americans prioritize the economy and national security over environmental concerns. However the drop in concern in 2008 is unique compared to other environmental issues.[29] Considered in the context of environmental issues, Americans consider global warming as a less critical concern than the pollution of rivers, lakes, and drinking water; toxic waste; fresh water needs; air pollution; damage to the ozone layer; and the loss of tropical rain forests. However, Americans prioritize global warming over species extinction and acid rain issues.[53] Since 2000 the partisan gap has grown as Republican and Democratic views diverge.[54]

See also


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  2. Gillis, Justin (17 April 2012). "Americans Link Global Warming to Extreme Weather, Poll Says". The New York Times. 
  3. Climate Science as Culture War: The public debate around climate change is no longer about science—it’s about values, culture, and ideology Fall 2012 Stanford Social Innovation Review
  4. Riffkin, Rebecca (12 March 2014). "Climate Change Not a Top Worry in U.S.". Gallup. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie (11 December 2009). "Awareness of Climate Change and Threat Vary by Region". Gallup. Retrieved 22 December 2009. 
  6. Crampton, Thomas (1 January 2007). "More in Europe worry about climate than in U.S., poll shows - Health & Science - International Herald Tribune". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2009. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie (7 December 2009). "Top-Emitting Countries Differ on Climate Change Threat". Gallup. Retrieved 22 December 2009. 
  8. Ipsos MORI. "Global Trends 2014". 
  9. MotherJones (July 22, 2014). "The Strange Relationship Between Global Warming Denial and…Speaking English". 
  10. 10.0 10.1 TNS Opinion and Social 2009, p. 13
  11. Kahan, Dan (20 February 2015). "Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem". Advances in Political Psychology. 36 (s1): 1–43. doi:10.1111/pops.12244. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
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  13. Lott, Maxim (12 February 2015). "Study: Global warming skeptics know more about climate science". Fox News. 
  14. Pelham, Brett W. (24 April 2009). "Views on Global Warming Relate to Energy Efficiency". Gallup. Retrieved 22 December 2009. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Die Frühgeschichte der globalen Umweltkrise und die Formierung der deutschen Umweltpolitik(1950-1973) (Early history of the environmental crisis and the setup of German environmental policy 1950-1973), Kai F. Hünemörder, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004 ISBN
  16. Dunlap, Riley E. (29 May 2009). "Climate-Change Views: Republican-Democratic Gaps Expand". Gallup. Retrieved 22 December 2009. 
  17. How Margaret Thatcher Made the Conservative Case for Climate Action, James West, Mother Jones, Mon Apr. 8, 2013
  18. 1988 Sep 27 Tu Margaret Thatcher Speech to the Royal Society
  19. An Inconvenient Truth About Margaret Thatcher: She Was a Climate Hawk, Will Oremus, Slate (magazine) April 8 2013
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Schreurs, M. A.; Tiberghien, Y. (Nov 2007). "Multi-Level Reinforcement: Explaining European Union Leadership in Climate Change Mitigation" (Full free text). Global Environmental Politics. 7 (4): 19–46. ISSN 1526-3800. doi:10.1162/glep.2007.7.4.19. 
  21. "Among those who vote for the Liberal Party or the Socialist Party, the great majority think that humans are behind climate changes (89 and 92%). Only 41% of those who vote for the Progress Party agree, while the number for Conservative Party voters is 60%." (Translated from Norwegian to English) Liv Jorun Andenes and Amalie Kvame Holm: Typisk norsk å være klimaskeptisk (Norwegian) Vårt Land, retrieved 8 July, 2013
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  24. Technische Problemlösung, Verhandeln und umfassende Problemlösung, (eng. technical trouble shooting, negotiating and generic problem solving capability) in Gesellschaftliche Komplexität und kollektive Handlungsfähigkeit (Societys complexity and collective ability to act), ed. Schimank, U. (2000). Frankfurt/Main: Campus, p.154-182 book summary at the Max Planck Gesellschaft
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  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 Knowledge, ignorance and the popular culture: climate change versus the ozone hole, by Sheldon Ungar, doi: 10.1088/0963-6625/9/3/306 Public Understanding of Science July 2000 vol. 9 no. 3 297-312 Abstract
  27. Sheldon Ungar Climatic Change February 1999, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 133-150 Is Strange Weather in the Air? A Study of U.S. National Network News Coverage of Extreme Weather Events
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  31. page 27
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  34. Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted 25 August through 2 September 2011
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  36. (Translated from Norwegian to English) "Two of three believe climate change is caused by humans. I believe that climate change is caused by humans (n=1001) Percentage that fully agree or disagree: (graph that shows numbers from 2009 to 2013, with 66/17 in 2013.")Presentasjon av resultater fra TNS Gallups Klimabarometer 2013 (7 June, 2013): Klimasak avgjør for hver fjerde velger (Norwegian) (link to pdf, p.29), TNS Gallup, retrieved 8 July, 2013
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  41. Begley, Sharon (13 August 2007). "The Truth About Denial". Newsweek. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
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  46. 46.0 46.1 Lorenzoni, I.; Pidgeon, N. F. (2006). "Public Views on Climate Change: European and USA Perspectives" (Full free text). Climatic Change. 77 (1–2): 73–95. ISSN 1573-1480. doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9072-z. "Despite the relatively high concern levels detected in these surveys, the importance of climate change is secondary in relation to other environmental, personal and social issues." 15 November 2005, accessed April 27, 2015
  47. Roger Pielke, Jr. (September 28, 2010). The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming (hardcover). Basic Books. p. 36-46. ISBN 978-0465020522. ...climate change does not rank high as a public priority in the context of the full spectrum of policy issues. 
  48. TNS Opinion and Social 2009, p. 15
  49. TNS Opinion and Social 2009, p. 21
  50. European Commission, Special Eurobarometer 372 - Climate Change Brussels, June 2011
  51. Oliver Geden (2012), The End of Climate Policy as We Knew it, SWP Research Paper 2012/RP01
  52. Newport, Frank (11 Mar 2010). "Americans' Global Warming Concerns Continue to Drop". Gallup. Retrieved 13 Mar 2010. 
  53. Saad, Lydia (7 April 2006). "Americans Still Not Highly Concerned About Global Warming". Gallup. Retrieved 7 January 2009. 
  54. Dunlap, Riley E. (29 May 2008). "Partisan Gap on Global Warming Grows". Gallup Organization. Retrieved 17 December 2009. 


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