For the past decade or more, climate change has been one of the most newsworthy and heavily researched topics across the globe. Everyone from scientists to politicians (there’s often a wide gap in-between) seems to have an opinion on the impacts of climate change and where we currently stand in its progression. But how much does the common person know?
An opinion poll of 10,000 European citizens is the first in-depth study to assess public engagement with marine climate change issues across 10 European countries. While most of the European population is relatively well informed on marine climate change, “a surprising number are poorly informed, and even misinformed revealing a major failure at communicating climate change science to the public,” says Carlos Duarte, co-author on the paper and Director of the Red Sea Research Center in Saudi Arabia.
For example, 54 percent of people polled think that humans play only a partial role or no role at all in climate change. On the other hand, about 30 percent of European citizens believe that loss of Arctic sea-ice in the summer and sea temperature increases of more than 2°C – impacts that are not expected to occur until at least the year 2100 – have already occurred. “This is hugely disturbing because if these changes have already occurred in their minds, what incentive do these citizens have to demand action to prevent such changes?” worries Duarte.
The study also showed that the public believes that ocean pollution is responsible for the most severe impact to climate change, but they lack understanding of ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Counter-intuitively, researchers found that nations that are currently coping with problems as a result of climate change – such as the Dutch with sea level rise and the Norwegians with sea-ice loss – are the least concerned by the impacts of climate change.
On another disturbing note, many that participated said that they have very little trust in government institutions and their scientists, and instead mostly trust scientists employed by universities.
“The study shows that we don’t all engage with issues around climate change impacts on the coast and seas in the same way,” explains lead author Paul Buckley from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science in the UK. “We need to tailor our message given the differences in how audiences across Europe engage with these issues. Making issues that seem remote from people’s everyday lives relevant is certainly a challenge.”
By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer