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Study Shows Most Europeans are not "Extremely Worried" about Climate Change

A majority of European citizens are not extremely worried about climate change. That was the remarkable finding from a new study on the views of 70,000 haphazardly sampled European men and women.

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Just 5% of the European citizens described themselves as “extremely worried” about climate change. The climate and the surroundings ranked merely fifth in the people’s overall perspective about priorities.

There was also skepticism that co-ordinated action, for instance, to reduce personal energy use, would make a great deal of difference.

It seems there is a chance the current generation will be content to sell their great grandchildren down the river.

Andrew Oswald, Study Senior Author and Professor, Economics and Behavioural Science, University of Warwick

The study is titled, “Do Europeans Care about Climate Change? An Illustration of the Importance of Data on Human Feelings.”

Oswald also pointed out that the supposed desirability bias—the tendency for interviewees to feel forced to hide their answers towards “politically correct” ones, might indicate that the actual level of worry regarding climate change is lower than projected in the statistical surveys.

The new study holds implications for both policymakers and economists.

There is little point in designing sophisticated economic policies for combatting climate change until voters feel that climate change is a deeply disturbing problem. Currently, those voters do not feel that.

Andrew Oswald, Study Senior Author and Professor, Economics and Behavioural Science, University of Warwick

Professor Oswald and Mr Adam Nowakowski from Bocconi University in Italy investigated data from two large-scale sources, including the 2016 European Social Survey and the 2019 Eurobarometer survey. The researchers discovered that:

  • European citizens do not display high levels of worry regarding climate change, with 1 in 20 describing themselves as “extremely worried”.
  • Europeans are more concerned with inward-looking problems seen as closer to home such as health, inflation, social security, unemployment, and the general economic situation.
  • Europeans do not strongly believe that combined action by energy users will actually make a real difference to climate change.
  • Young people, women, city-dwellers, and university graduates exhibit higher levels of concern regarding climate change.
  • Individuals living in warmer European nations had greater levels of concern when compared to those living in the cooler North of the continent.

Going forward, Oswald and Nowakowsi have recommended parallels with the original government campaigns to reduce smoking. They duo debated that it will be essential to change individuals’ feelings about the risks of increasing global temperatures.

Just as knowledge about the dangers of smoking went hand-in-hand with tax increases and graphic warnings, governments must consider doing more to educate and change individuals’ perceived level of worry regarding climate change.

We should not conclude that Europe does not care at all about climate change. However, our analysis of the data does suggest that European citizens are not ready for policies which would have strongly negative consequences on their day-to-day lives—not least because we have found a low level of confidence in the usefulness of joint action.

Mr Adam Nowakowski, Bocconi University


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