Perceptions of Climate Change

Public opinion about the human causes of climate change is strongly divided, these opinions are largely determined by the perceptions of agreement or disagreement among scientists. Public perceptions and scientific consensus is also dependent upon ethical, social and political attitudes. A recent study involving 1868 scientists studying various aspects of climate change including mitigation and the physical climate, explored the distribution of scientific opinion on anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs). The study found that as expertise in climate science grew so did the agreement on anthropogenic causation, 90% of the respondents with more than 10 peer reviewed publications agreed. The surveys also found that those who strongly disagree with the influence of human GHGs on climate are largely overrepresented in the media, relative to the prevalence of these opinions in the scientific community.

The media can have a strong influence on public perception of climate change. Translating public concern for climate change into effective action requires real knowledge. This cannot be gained from the media portrayal of, for example, British flooding with tenuous links to scientific understanding or from films such as The Day After Tomorrow where the line between scientific fact and dramatized science fiction is extremely blurred. Some believe that the only way to evoke real actions towards the risk of climate change is to find ways to create worry or concern about the changes by simulating the possible future consequences on places they value. The time delayed, abstract and statistical nature of global warming risks does not create visceral reactions towards climate change on its own. Careful consideration is needed to portray climate change in a way that can provoke actions to reduce GHGs and present sound scientific knowledge in a way that can easily be understood.



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