The well-regarded, nonpartisan Pew Research Center fact tank has just sliced and diced the results of its Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey. The Pew climate change survey included a slew of questions about attitudes toward climate change and the relationship between climate change and other objective economic and environmental indicators. Mean scores on climate concern for each country on a climate concern scale of 3 to 12 range from a low of 8.66 in Israel, and Brazil, highest at 11.42. The overall average of all valid responses is 9.93.
The center characterizes the importance of its findings thus:
“In a few weeks, world leaders will gather in Paris to negotiate a climate change agreement that will frame the global agenda on this issue for the next decade and beyond. As a new Pew Research Center survey illustrates, there is a global consensus that climate change is a significant challenge. Majorities in all 40 nations polled say it is a serious problem, and a global median of 54% consider it a very serious problem. Moreover, a median of 78% support the idea of their country limiting greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international agreement in Paris.”
And most are confident about what should be done to deal with global warming. Except for Pakistan, majorities in all nations surveyed support their own countries limiting emissions as part of a climate accord.
The Pew climate change researchers conducted the two-month survey among 45,435 respondents from 40 nations. The researchers conclude that people in all nations of the world broadly support limiting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Perception of threat, and two modes of combatting the problem
People in the world view climate change as a fairly imminent threat. A median of 51% of the 45 thousand international respondents in the study believe people are already being harmed by climate change. Over one quarter (28%) think people will feel the negative effects in the next few years. In all but the United Kingdom, more than half of those polled say climate change will cause harm to them personally during their lifetimes. A global median of 40% are very worried this will happen.
The Pew climate change analysis also examined the extent of public support for action on climate change. Across the 40 nations, 54% of respondents agree with the statement “Rich countries, such as the U.S., Japan and Germany, should do more than developing countries because they have produced most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions so far.”
Although many Americans tend to regard their political opinions as deeply divided along party lines, the study finds that political division characterizes climate change views in other economically advanced and democratic nations. People on the political left are significantly more likely than those on the right to believe that climate change is a major threat.
Some of the greatest partisan differences exist in Australia, where just two months ago disagreements over global warming toppled Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ruling Liberal Party. In nations like Canada, Germany, and the UK, conservatives are also much less likely than liberals or greens to believe they will be harmed by climate change.
While the wealthy and conservatives in the United States and elsewhere tend to criticize poor nations for repeatedly insisting on rights to economic development as well as compensation from the developed world for its huge share of greenhouse gas pollution, they omit another powerful component of public support. This important but often overlooked second component is changes in lifestyle.
Most respondents perceive that confronting climate change will entail more than policy: it will also require significant changes in how people live. A full two-thirds (global median, 67%) say that in order to reduce the effects of climate change, individuals will have to make major life changes. Only 22% believe technology alone can solve the climate change problem. This attitude prevails even in the US (66%), where technological innovations are frequent and commonplace.
The #1 citizen worry is drought
While most people know thirst, fully 40% of the world currently suffers from drought. It kills gruesomely but nowhere near fast enough, and it often causes slow starvation as well when food sources dry up. In … years, 60% of world citizens are expected to become drought-prone.
Presented with four potential effects of global warming (droughts or water shortages; severe weather, such as floods or intense storms; long periods of unusually hot weather; or rising sea levels), those surveyed by Pew told which one most concerns them. Drought, say respondents in 31 countries. Almost half the population (44%) cite drought as their greatest worry with regard to climate change. In the US, 50% say this is the possible effect that concerns them most. In Latin America and Africa, where drought is of highest concern, a median of 59% fear it more than any other effect of climate change.
The other three consequences concern people as well. A median of 25% say severe weather upsets them most. In Asia-Pacific, the median is 34%. Severe weather is tied for or number one in eight nations. Temperature (long periods of high heat) disturbs Indonesians, Nigerians, and Malaysians.
Survey bias is apparent here, however. Study authors make the point that no country singles out rising sea levels (though roughly one-in-five or more respondents in France, the UK, Japan, Australia, and South Korea name it as their primary concern). Were predominantly low-lying and island nations given more of a voice in the poll, the results would undoubtedly differ.
Nonetheless, Pew’s analysis provides unique comparisons and insights into some important world views of our common climate challenge.