Why Climate Change Denial May Not Be as Common as You Think

Does your concern about climate change leave you feeling like you're wandering alone in the desert? Cheer up! There are more people who share your convictions than you think. Phares Book photo

Does your concern about climate change leave you feeling like you’re wandering alone in the desert? Cheer up! There are more people who share your convictions than you think. Phares Book photo

by Eddie Game, conservation planning specialist

Scientists are such bad communicators, which is why the majority of the public doesn’t believe in climate change despite scientific consensus.

Does this drum beat sound familiar? I can almost hear science communicators Randy Olson and Nancy Baron whispering it in my ear.

Well, Zoe Leviston of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and other researchers offer at least some relief. In work published recently in Nature Climate Change, Leviston and her coauthors report evidence of a strong “false consensus effect” around climate change belief in Australia.

Essentially, people who believed that climate change was “not happening” grossly overestimated how prevalent that same opinion was in society, whereas those who did believe in climate change (the vast majority) underestimated how common their views were.

Just 7.2% of the roughly 10,000 people surveyed rejected the occurrence of climate change, but on average, these same people believed that over 42% of the population held the same view as them.

The explanation for belief in the commonness of climate rejection predictably includes media bias in coverage of community attitudes. Believing in climate change certainly doesn’t imply that someone would choose action if it requires making trade-offs, but it’ s certainly a better base to work from then denial.

If this study suggests our communication around climate change might not be as bad as we think, it also highlights a key piece of communication we’re missing – that most people are in our camp!

Leviston, Z., Walker, I., & Morwinski, S. (2012). Your opinion on climate change might not be as common as you think. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE1743

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Eddie is the Conservation Planning Specialist with The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Methods and Tools Team. Based in Brisbane, Australia, he works across the organization, trying to improve approaches to spatial prioritization and promote good conservation decision making. Eddie received his PhD from the University of Queensland, under Professor Hugh Possingham, and has previously worked in fisheries and marine conservation. He has published on conservation planning, coral reef resilience, pelagic protected areas, dynamic decision making, evolution and mountain biking in Kyrgyzstan.

Comments: Why Climate Change Denial May Not Be as Common as You Think

  •  Comment from klem

    Part of the reason for the confusion also stems from the vague definition of climate denier. For many people a denier is as person who believes that the climate never changes and has never changed ever. Other deniers are defined as a person who believes the climate does change, but that humans are not responsible. Other deniers are defined as those who believe the climate changes but humans have a only an insignificant influence. In other words, if you are not a climate alarmist, you are automatically labeled a denier. The last opinion poll I read put alarmists at around 16% of the population, leaving up to 84% on the denier side (depending on the definition used).

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