Article image

Study: Most people view climate change as a very important issue

New research challenges the notion that people are unmotivated to act on climate change because they perceive it as a distant issue. This misconception could hinder progress in mitigating climate change due to social influence, suggests a study published on April 21 in the journal One Earth.

The concept of psychological distance is often used to explain the lack of action on climate change, with NGOs and governmental agencies assuming that people view the problem as affecting faraway regions in the future. 

However, the recent research, led by Dr. Anne M. van Valkengoed of the University of Groningen, found that most people actually regard climate change as an important and timely issue even if its impacts are not immediately noticeable.

“There is no consistent evidence that perceiving climate change as psychologically distant hinders climate action, with studies reporting mixed results,” the authors wrote. 

To support this claim, van Valkengoed and her team analyzed results from public opinion polls that surveyed people about their views on climate change. Some of these polls included over 100,000 participants from 121 different countries. 

Surprisingly, more than 50% of respondents believed that climate change is happening either now or in the near future and that it will impact their local areas, not just distant locations.

Furthermore, the researchers reviewed 26 studies that investigated the relationship between psychological distance and climate action. Only nine of these studies found a positive association between the two. 

In some cases, the perception of climate change affecting distant places and communities actually motivated people to take more action. Additionally, 25 out of 30 studies failed to prove that experimentally decreasing psychological distance increased climate action.

This widespread misconception about the relationship between psychological distance and climate action could have adverse effects on mitigating climate change. 

Perceiving climate change as psychologically distant is not a key reason why people do not engage in climate action
Image Credit: One Earth/Anne M. van Valkengoed et al.

If people believe that others perceive climate change as a psychologically distant issue and, as a result, are not taking action, they might be less likely to act themselves. Moreover, they could feel that their individual efforts are futile because real environmental change relies on the combined efforts of many.

Given these findings, the researchers suggest that it is crucial to shift the focus of researchers, communicators, and policymakers. 

“We therefore recommend researchers, communicators, and policymakers instead focus on how to leverage the finding that many people already perceive climate change as occurring here and now,” they said. 

By harnessing this understanding, policymakers and communicators can develop more effective strategies to promote climate action and inspire collective efforts to address the global crisis.

Difficulties achieving climate change mitigation goals

Meeting climate change mitigation goals around the world is a complex and multifaceted challenge. Various factors contribute to the difficulties, including:

Political barriers

Climate change mitigation often requires long-term commitment and investment from governments. However, political priorities can change with each election cycle, leading to inconsistent or short-term policies that undermine efforts to tackle climate change.

Economic obstacles

Shifting away from fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy sources can be costly, especially for developing countries. These nations may face difficulties in securing funding or making the necessary investments in infrastructure, technology, and workforce development.

Technological challenges

While advances in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon capture technologies have been significant, they may not be enough to meet global climate goals. Moreover, access to and adoption of these technologies may be uneven, particularly in developing countries.

Social and cultural barriers

Public opinion and cultural norms can hinder climate change mitigation efforts. Resistance to change, skepticism about climate science, and attachment to traditional ways of life can all impede the adoption of new technologies and practices.

Inequity between developed and developing countries

Developing countries often have fewer resources to invest in climate change mitigation efforts and may be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This can exacerbate existing inequalities and make it more challenging to achieve global climate goals.

Coordination and cooperation

Climate change is a global issue that requires coordinated efforts among nations. However, differences in national priorities, economic conditions, and political contexts can make it difficult to reach international agreements and implement coordinated actions.

Short-term focus

Many governments, businesses, and individuals prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability. This can result in decisions that may not be aligned with climate change mitigation goals.

Monitoring and enforcement

Effective implementation of climate change mitigation measures requires monitoring, reporting, and verification systems. However, these systems can be complex and resource-intensive, and enforcement can be challenging, particularly in countries with weak governance structures.

These difficulties emphasize the need for a global, collaborative approach that takes into account the unique challenges faced by individual countries. By working together, sharing knowledge and resources, and adopting effective policies and practices, the world can overcome these obstacles and move towards a more sustainable future.

Most pressing concerns about climate change

Climate change presents a range of pressing concerns for humanity and the Earth. Some of the most critical issues include:

Extreme weather events

Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms, floods, and droughts. These events can lead to loss of life, property damage, infrastructure disruption, and agricultural losses.

Sea level rise

Melting polar ice caps and thermal expansion of seawater due to rising temperatures contribute to sea level rise. This poses a threat to coastal communities, as it can lead to flooding, erosion, and displacement of populations.

Ocean acidification

Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere lead to the acidification of oceans, negatively affecting marine ecosystems, including coral reefs and shellfish populations. This can have cascading impacts on global food chains and the livelihoods of those who rely on fishing and other marine resources.

Loss of biodiversity

Climate change disrupts ecosystems, leading to habitat loss, species extinction, and reduced biodiversity. This can have profound consequences for the balance of ecosystems, the provision of essential services, and the resilience of Earth’s natural systems.

Food and water insecurity

Climate change affects agriculture through changes in precipitation patterns, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and the spread of pests and diseases. This can lead to food shortages, price volatility, and increased risk of malnutrition. Similarly, water scarcity may become more prevalent in some regions due to changing climate patterns, affecting access to clean and safe drinking water.

Human health impacts

Climate change can exacerbate existing health issues and create new challenges. These include heat-related illnesses, respiratory problems, vector-borne diseases, and mental health impacts due to displacement and loss of livelihoods.

Economic consequences

Climate change can have significant economic implications, including disruptions to global supply chains, reduced productivity, and increased costs associated with adaptation and disaster response.

Migration and displacement

Climate change may lead to the displacement of populations due to sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and resource scarcity. This can result in increased migration and potential conflicts over resources, as well as the need to support affected communities.

Inequality and social justice

The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, including low-income communities, women, children, and indigenous peoples. This can exacerbate existing inequalities and create additional social and economic challenges.

Geopolitical tensions

Competition for scarce resources, migration, and the impacts of climate change on national security can heighten geopolitical tensions and create the potential for conflict.

Addressing these pressing concerns requires urgent action from governments, businesses, and individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance adaptation measures, and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day