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Webinar: Does thinking concretely about climate change promote support for carbon emissions reductions? Results from a national survey

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Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:00

Thursday, October 19, 2017. 2:00PM. Webinar: Does thinking concretely about climate change promote support for carbon emissions reductions? Results from a national survey. Ann Bostrom, University of Washington, . Sponsored by Center for Satellite Applications and Research. More information here.

Comprehensive analysis of the results from 20 years of public opinion surveys on global warming reveals that Americans have tended to discount the threat of climate change due to the perception that its consequences are far in the future (Nisbet & Myers, 2007).  Indeed, although the Yale Climate Change Studies November 2016 study describes it as the highest level of worry they have recorded (since 2008), only 19% of their U.S. nationally representative sample reported being “very worried” about global warming, and the study concludes that most people think of global warming as a relatively distant threat. This is consistent with research in the U.S. and elsewhere, which has shown that people often view climate change as a distant threat and of lesser concern than other issues such as health, family, personal comforts, and finances. These factors—global rather than local, future rather than now, others rather than me—are thought to increase what is referred to as “psychological distance,” which is associated with lower concern about climate change.   Experimental studies of consumer choices demonstrate that psychological distance and level of abstraction influence each other. Furthermore, there is evidence that psychological distance systematically influences attitudes and choice through level of abstraction, independent of personal relevance. Thus, concern may be more directly related to abstraction than to psychological distance. We hypothesize that as people think more concretely about climate change, psychological distance will decrease, and concern and support for mitigation policy will increase. To test this, we fielded a national survey experiment in the U.S. in February 2017 through GfK (N=1820), in which participants were assigned to one of three experimental treatments, (1) a treatment designed to increase concrete thinking, (2) a treatment to increase abstract thinking, or (3) a control group.  The concrete (how) treatment significantly increases support for reducing climate change by reducing carbon emissions.  However, the effect is small, and on closer examination is entirely due to a shift among the politically conservative.  Unexpectedly, certainty (perceived likelihood) that human actions have changed global climate is higher than expected; a majority (63%) believe it likely, very likely, or extremely likely, with no significant difference by treatment, yet feelings about climate change remained tepid.  


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