More than half of Americans seem to think that climate change will not affect them personally, a new survey shows. Only 45 percent think that global warming will pose a serious threat in their lives, and only 43 percent say they care a lot about climate change. But climate change is already affecting us, so why do not people realize that? The reason has to do with a mixture of politics and psychology.
The survey, conducted by Gallup, shows that many Americans "perceive climate change as a distant problem," says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Many people think that we are not going to endure most of the climate change until 2050 or 2100, and that other parts of the world will be affected, not the US. UU., Not your state, your city or your community. "As a result, it becomes psychologically distant." It is just one of the thousands of other problems that exist. "If I have to worry about paying my hospital bills, I'm less concerned about the melting of sea ice in the Arctic.
"It's just one of the thousands of other problems that exist."
But temperatures are rising everywhere, not just in the Arctic; Cities are especially affected and heat waves are becoming more frequent. Extreme weather events, such as forest fires and hurricanes, are also increasingly extreme. These scientists are consistent with a world that warms, scientists say. That kind of meaning makes sense: although the Gallup poll found that while only 64 percent of Americans think that global warming is caused by human activities, 97 percent of climate scientists believe that.
Although we are beginning to feel the effects of climate change, these effects are not dramatic enough on a day-to-day basis to convince most Americans that climate change should be taken seriously, says Magali Delmas, a professor at the Institute. of Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. Humans are not great at dealing with situations that are high risk, but they do not happen as often. Think about earthquake insurance, for example. Although there is a 99 percent chance that there will be an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 in the next 30 years in California, the likelihood of it happening in the next year and affecting me is much less. As a result, only 13 percent of people in California have purchased insurance from the California Earthquake Authority, says Delmas.
Now apply that kind of thinking to climate change, which is often framed as a catastrophic event. Unfortunately, fear tactics do not work to change the beliefs and behavior of people. For people who do accept that climate change is real, it can seem like an insurmountable problem that is too big for anyone. People who do not believe that human-caused climate change is disrupting the world may feel that catastrophe scenarios are simply exaggerated. If the problem was so bad, would not we be struggling to solve it? "If there is nothing you can do about it, you disconnect, you disconnect," says Delmas.
But attitudes about climate change have changed recently, mainly because of politics, says Leiserowitz. In 2009, after the election of Barack Obama, there was a clear change in the public's perception of climate change. The percentage of Americans who believed that climate change is real fell precipitously from 71 percent in 2008 to 57 percent in 2009. The culprit? The policy, according to a study that Leiserowitz published in Environmental Politics last year. He discovered that the change in the way Americans perceived that climate change overlapped with the boom of the tea party, which is known for its denial of global warming. Americans who identify strongly as Republicans or Democrats and pay attention to politics "tend to listen to what their leaders say," says Leiserowitz.
Democrats and Republicans are increasingly polarized on issues related to climate
In fact, the election of Donald Trump, who described climate change as a "deception" and said on Twitter that climate change is not real because it is cold, also altered attitudes even more. Right after the 2016 presidential election, the belief that global warming is happening fell 2 percentage points among all registered Republican voters, compared to the spring of 2016, says Leiserowitz. And the polarization has continued, something that the Gallup poll shows. Democrats and Republicans are increasingly polarized about the weather: 69 percent of Republicans said they think "the severity of global warming in general is exaggerated," an increase of 66 percent last year. By comparison, 4 percent of Democrats think that, below 10 percent in 2017. And the perception of climate change varies widely along party lines: only 18 percent of Republicans believe that warming global will pose a serious threat in your life. of democrats. And 33 percent of Republicans worry a lot or a lot about global warming, compared to 91 percent of Democrats.
So, what can be done to make more people care about climate change? To motivate people to take action, it is important to connect climate change with something tangible, such as air pollution and health problems. That has worked in China, says Delmas, where public opinion has leaned in favor of clean energy after experiencing the effects of air pollution due to the burning of coal. Both Leiserowitz and Delmas agree that people need solutions, such as the installation of solar panels on roofs or the purchase of an electric car. "People need a sense of hope," says Leiserowitz.
Leiserowitz hopes that the public perception of climate change will change soon. More Americans think that global warming will pose a serious threat to their lives than at any other time since 1997, according to Gallup. People are already beginning to realize the most extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and wildfires, wreaking havoc throughout the country. And some of the solutions to climate change, such as renewable energy, are becoming cheaper and more accessible. It does not matter that Trump promises to recover the coal, says Leiserowitz.
The market can help where beliefs do not: if renewable energy is still cheap, even skeptics are likely to use it.