What You Think You Know About The Climate Is Probably Wrong

What You Think You Know About The Climate Is Probably Wrong

We humans have a natural tendency to focus on negative stories. We tend to assume things are worse than they really are, and going downhill fast. We forget how bad things were in the past and how far we’ve come.

In reality, the world is often better — and getting better — than we think, something I wrote about in my book, The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. Murder rates, deaths from terrorism and extreme poverty are all down. Life expectancy, health and education levels are up. And yet, there is one vital, urgent exception to this rule: we still don’t realise how badly wrong our global climate and environment have gone.

A new survey of Britons which tested understanding of some key facts about the environment reveals the extent of environmental misperceptions. Rather than asking people what they thought might happen, this study instead focused on assessing knowledge of the world as it is right now.

One question, for example, was how many of the past 22 years have been the hottest on record?

The answer is 20, but the average guess was just 12. And one in five people guessed five or fewer.

Britons also overestimated some facts, such as how much air travel contributes to greenhouse guesses. The average guess was that 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from air travel, when in fact it only accounts for around 2%. Respondents also assumed that air travel’s emissions are about equal to that of all other forms of transport put together, when in reality, the latter contributes about ten times as much as flights. This is due to the relative rarity of flights compared to other forms of transport.

What You Think You Know About The Climate Is Probably Wrong Misperceptions about the source of greenhouse gas emissions. The Policy Institute, King's College London

Yet despite aviation’s relatively limited contribution to emissions overall, one of the most effective environmental actions we can take as individuals is to fly less. A study by Swedish academics puts skipping one transatlantic flight as the third most effective action we can take, only behind the much more extreme options of having one fewer child and living entirely car free. Curiously, only 25% of the British public pick out skipping a flight as one of the top three. Instead, 52% of people guessed that recycling was one of the best things we can do to reduce our emissions - when it’s seventh in this list of nine actions.

What You Think You Know About The Climate Is Probably Wrong We are very wrong on what would most reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The Policy Institute, King's College London

And that’s not our only misperception about recycling: we massively underestimate the problem of plastic waste. Britons guessed that about half of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste humans have produced globally is still out there in the environment (in our oceans, our soil, our water, even inside our bodies), when in reality it’s an incredible 79%. And how much plastic waste has been recycled? Respondents guessed about a quarter, when in reality its only 9% (Read: Is there any point in recycling?).

We also don’t realise just how extreme the loss of animal species over the past decade has been. Only a third correctly identify that the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles in the world have declined by 60% since 1970.

What You Think You Know About The Climate Is Probably Wrong Only a third of us correctly guess that animal populations have dropped by 60% since 1970. The Policy Institute, King's College London

Anxiety and other people

But our lack of understanding of the scale of the issues doesn’t mean we’re not worried. In fact, recent polling of Britons by Ipsos MORI measured record-breaking levels of concern. Our new polling also shows that two-thirds of Britons reject Donald Trump’s assertion that global warming is an “expensive hoax” – and instead two-thirds agree with the recent UK Parliament declaration that we are facing a “climate change emergency, with the threat of irreversible destruction of our environment in our lifetime”.

 

What You Think You Know About The Climate Is Probably Wrong Very few agree that global warming is an expensive hoax … The Policy Institute, King's College London

Our largest misconceptions seem to be around what other people think, a phenomenon that academics call our pluralistic ignorance: our perception is that other people’s attitudes are the problem.

Despite record levels of public concern, 73% believe that other people are not worried enough — while only 16% say we ourselves are not worried enough. Half of us say that other people think it’s too late to do anything to prevent a climate change emergency, but only one in five of us admits to having given up hope. This misunderstanding of the norm is serious, as it affects our own sense of efficacy: if others aren’t bothered, what’s the point in us acting?

What You Think You Know About The Climate Is Probably Wrong ‘Other people’ are not worried enough about climate change. The Policy Institute, King's College London

Its naive to think that bombarding people with facts will incite them to act, no matter how extraordinary or terrifying these facts may be. But its equally as naive to think that we can figure out exactly the right emotional buttons to push: we just don’t know enough yet about how fear, hope and a sense of efficacy interact in motivating action in different people.

Nevertheless, a little more understanding of the scale of the issues and how we individually can act most effectively couldn’t hurt. And perhaps most crucially, we need to remember that we are not alone in our concern. Anxiety about climate change has become the norm, and this is a fact that we can harness and put to use.

About The Author

Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute, King's College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming Kindle Edition

by David Wallace-Wells
0525576703It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible. In California, wildfires now rage year-round, destroying thousands of homes. Across the US, “500-year” storms pummel communities month after month, and floods displace tens of millions annually. This is only a preview of the changes to come. And they are coming fast. Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. Available On Amazon

The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption

by Dahr Jamail
1620972344After nearly a decade overseas as a war reporter, the acclaimed journalist Dahr Jamail returned to America to renew his passion for mountaineering, only to find that the slopes he had once climbed have been irrevocably changed by climate disruption. In response, Jamail embarks on a journey to the geographical front lines of this crisis—from Alaska to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, via the Amazon rainforest—in order to discover the consequences to nature and to humans of the loss of ice.  Available On Amazon

Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves: How to Thrive While Creating a Sustainable World

by Ellen Moyer
1942936559Our scarcest resource is time. With determination and action, we can implement solutions rather than sit on the sidelines suffering harmful impacts. We deserve, and can have, better health and a cleaner environment, a stable climate, healthy ecosystems, sustainable use of resources, and less need for damage control. We have so much to gain. Through science and stories, Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves makes the case for hope, optimism, and practical solutions we can take individually and collectively to green our technology, green our economy, strengthen our democracy, and create social equality. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-world Radicalism
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-World Radicalism
by Calvert Jones and Celia Paris
Humans are storytelling creatures: the stories we tell have profound implications for how we see our role in the world,…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
by Tim Radford
Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often.
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
by Nivedita Khandekar
With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last…
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
by Paul Brown
As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and…
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
by Heather Alberro
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and the richest man alive, recently made headlines after pledging to donate $10 billion to a new…
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
by Alex Kirby
Educating both halves of humankind seems a no-brainer. Schools for girls could transform climate protection − and so…

LATEST VIDEOS

Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…

LATEST ARTICLES

Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
by Jack DeWaard
If it seems like extreme weather disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires are becoming more frequent, severe and…
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
by George Milev and Amin Al-Habaibeh
The COVID-19 lockdown has led to reduced pollution and emissions in the UK and around the world, providing a clear…
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
by Sarah McLaren
I would like to know if New Zealand’s carbon emissions of 0.17% include emissions produced from products manufactured…
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
by Ben Christopher Howard
The coronavirus pandemic has grounded thousands of aircraft, contributing to the largest-ever annual fall in CO₂…
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
by Alemu Gonsamo
Climate warming is leading to early springs and delayed autumns in colder environments, allowing plants to grow for a…
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
by Deidra Miniard et al
Political divisions are a growing fixture in the United States today, whether the topic is marriage across party lines,…
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
by Alexandra Macmillan and Jono Drew
I am wondering about the climate impact of vegan meat versus beef. How does a highly processed patty compare to…