It’s no secret that climate change touches everyone everywhere in some way, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, income level, or gender. But with some 200 or so nations (depending on how you count them) sharing the planet, each with their own culture and way of doing things, not everyone everywhere sees the issue the same way. And if we’re going to build a truly global movement to fight climate change, we’ve got to understand what it looks like from as many worldviews as possible.
To help close this knowledge gap, the Pew Research Center interviewed 45,435 people across 40 nations between March and May of 2015. The study sought to answer some tough questions, including how different nations view the seriousness of climate change, what consequences worry people the most, which groups are most concerned, and what people think is necessary to address the crisis. The results were enlightening and in this post, we discuss some of the key findings. Read on.
Which countries are most concerned about climate change?
The majority of people around the world are concerned in some way about climate change. However, the level of concern varies, with a median of 54 percent of those surveyed saying it’s a “very serious problem” and 85 percent saying it’s a “somewhat serious problem."
Despite overwhelming global concern for the health of our planet, not all regions and nations are equally worried. For example, Latin American countries are more likely to be concerned about climate change than North American nations, with a median of 74 percent of respondents in Latin America reporting it as a very serious problem. Of the nations surveyed, Brazil is the most concerned, with 86 percent of Brazilians believing climate change is a very serious problem. Peru and Chile aren’t far behind, with 77 percent of Chileans surveyed and 75 percent of Peruvians surveyed also feeling this way.
Takeaway: As a region, Latin America is the most concerned about climate change, with a median of 74 percent of respondents saying it’s a very serious problem.
Which countries are less concerned about climate change?
Remarkably, the survey found a number of nations are relatively less concerned about climate change today than five years ago. In China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the number of people who believe climate change is a very serious issue decreased by 23 percentage points from 2010 to 2015 (dropping from 41 percent to 18 percent). But when asked if they supported an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions like the one signed at the UN’s COP 21 climate talks last year, an overwhelming 71 percent of Chinese respondents answered in the affirmative. Concern about climate change in a number of other countries, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Poland, and Russia, has also decreased significantly between 2010 and 2015.
Takeaway: Some nations are less concerned about climate change today than five years ago, most notably in China where the level of concern decreased by 23 percentage points.
What consequences of climate change worry people the most?
There’s not a shortage of consequences of climate change to worry about, but the one that resonates most with the people in the study is the possibility – or existence – of drought. A global median of 44 percent of respondents said droughts or water shortages are the most concerning potential effects of climate change. This isn’t surprising given that much of the western US – along with parts of India, Brazil, South Africa, and many other nations around the world – has battled devastating droughts in recent years. In the US, half of those surveyed rated drought as their top concern, including 63 percent of people surveyed from the western US and 56 percent from the Midwest.
Severe weather like floods and strong storms have the next highest level of concern, with a global median of 25 percent, followed by long periods of hot weather at 14 percent and rising sea levels at 6 percent.
Takeaway: Drought or water shortages worry people most, with a global median of 44 percent of people surveyed citing these as their top concerns.
Who in the US is most concerned about climate change?
There’s a surprising disparity among different groups of Americans and how they view climate change. For example, there’s a clear gender difference, with 51 percent of women surveyed saying climate change is a very serious problem, compared with 39 percent of men. American women are also more likely to say climate change will affect them personally (36 percent of women versus 23 percent of men).
The study also found that young adults in the US between the ages of 18–29 are more concerned about climate change than older Americans, with 52 percent of young adults surveyed seeing it as a very serious problem, compared to 38 percent of those 50 and older. Eighty-five percent of young adults surveyed in the US also support an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 60 percent of older Americans.
Takeaway: Women and young adults in the US are more concerned about climate change than older Americans. Plus, more women than men feel it will harm them personally in their lifetimes.
Which nations report feeling the effects of climate change today?
Of all the regions surveyed, those living in Latin America are the most concerned today about the threat of climate change, with 77 percent of respondents saying it’s harming citizens now. More specifically, 90 percent of Brazilians surveyed believe climate change currently affects people. It’s likely that this strong concern about climate change gave Brazil's leaders confidence to commit to source 20 percent of its electricity from non-hydro renewables by 2030.
Among the Europeans in the study, 66 percent of Germans and 65 percent of Italians believe climate change affects people today. The least worried? Just 28 percent of Poles surveyed believe climate change currently harms people.
Elsewhere, the majority of Africans surveyed (a median of 52 percent) think climate change affects people today or will in the near future, with Burkina Faso and Uganda being two of the African nations most concerned. On the other hand, just 33 percent of Ethiopians and 31 percent of South Africans feel this way, showing disparities even in nations that are experiencing effects such as droughts and water shortages.
Meanwhile, the US was an outlier in the study – and not in a good way. Just 41 percent of Americans surveyed believe climate change harms people today and 29 percent say its effects are a long way off or may never harm people. Perhaps the participants in the study hadn’t read this article.
Takeaway: Nations in Latin America believe they are seeing the effects of climate change today most, and just 41 percent of Americans report that climate change is currently harming people.
How does faith impact views on climate change?
Among US Catholics, half of those surveyed say climate change is a very serious problem and 39 percent think it will affect them personally. It’s likely Pope Francis influenced this line of thinking with last year’s encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home, a letter to people around the world discussing how the destruction of the environment is harming our planet – and especially harming the poorest among us. US Protestants, on the other hand, are less worried about climate change, with only 34 percent saying they’re very concerned about the issue.
Takeaway: US Catholics are more concerned about climate change than Protestants, and it’s likely Pope Francis played a part in this difference.
What do people think it will take to solve climate change?
While advancements in technology are certainly helping address the climate crisis, a global median of 67 percent of people surveyed said the burden is on people to make significant lifestyle changes to reduce its effects.
We agree. It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part in combating climate change. We can all start by telling a friend or family member about the affordable clean-energy solutions that exist, encouraging others to get active too, or educating others about how climate change is affecting our planet today. There’s not one right answer – but all of us working together can create the kind of impact our planet needs to thrive into the future.
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