Americans Believe that Climate Change Is Not an Imminent Danger Based on their Risk Perceptions

The public perceptions on certain subjects can essentially force or restrict social, political, and economic action to tackle certain risks. This includes the subject of climate change. As a modification, which is slow and gradual, of average conditions, climate change is considered a difficult phenomenon to detect and track solely based on personal experience.

Source: Huffington Post
What also complicates the transfer of scientific descriptions on climate change and the variability of climate from the scientists to the public, policy makers, and politicians are inadequate concern and trust. These scientific descriptions are not a simple transmission of facts. Support or opposition of the public to climate policies, which include taxes, treaties, and regulations, are expected to be heavily influenced by the public’s perception of risks and dangers that are posed by global climate change.

Personal Experience and Statistical Description Shape these Perceptions of Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, people often falsely attribute the unique events of weather to this subject. They also fail to detect changes in climate. Over time, the perceptions of the public on climate change actually mirror a general under concern and greater volatility.

A reason that people do not take action to weaken climate change is because of the lack of first-hand experience of the potential consequences it has. Viewing from this perspective, people who have direct personal experience of phenomena that can be linked to climate change would more than likely be concerned about the issue and would be more inclined to practice sustainable behaviors.

The majority of people’s knowledge and exposure to climate change is mainly indirect and virtual. It’s presented by news coverages and film documentaries of certain events at different places (an example can be the melting of ice in cold places like Antarctica). The presentations relate these events to climate change.


Americans Perceive Climate Change as an Average Risk that Will Eventually Make an Impact Geographically

From November 2002 to November 2003, a national study was conducted that examined the risk perceptions and connotative meanings of global warming in the American mind. The study also examined Americans’ policy preferences and behaviors. The measures the study used were risk perception, affective imagery, and sociodemographics.

Figure: Average of American Risk Perceptions on the subject of Global Warming

The results from the study showed that Americans were somewhat concerned with global warming believing that the impacts will be more on pronounced in nonhuman nature but were concerned less about local impacts, believing these were somewhat unlikely.

The results of affective imagery in the study explain the paradox in America’s public risk perception when it comes to climate change. When looking at the imagery, Americans perceived climate change as a moderate risk but the impacts of it will mainly affect people and places that are geographically distant.


Public Risk Perceptions of Americans on Climate Change are Critical Because of Support of Government Policies and Fossil Fuels

When it comes to the subject of climate change, Americans’ public risk perceptions are important for two reasons. The first reason on why they are important is that congress leaders and U.S. Presidents have been at war with much of the community of the world with respect to the reality, seriousness, and need for robust action on climate change.

An example of this is in 2001, when President George W. Bush pledged a campaign to regulate carbon dioxide a pollutant. He also proposed a national energy legislation that increases drilling for natural and oil gas and builds more than a thousand new fossil fuel burning power plants.

The second reason on why these perceptions are important is that with only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S., since 2005, is currently the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. This itself accounts for almost 25% of global emissions.

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