Perceptions of climate change

Different cultures, same view on climate

Perspectives on climate change are consistent across nations and cultures

Story highlights

  • Study looks at whether people across specific and diverse places share ideas about global climate change
  • Authors examine datasets from Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, Equador and the US
  • Study reveals high level of agreement across sites regarding the causes, signs and consequences of climate change

That science is relatively uniform and unison in its analysis of human-induced climate change is well known, but there are increasing signs that public perceptions are following suit.

In a study recently published in Climatic Change, centre researcher Beatrice Crona and colleagues from Arizona State University (ASU) have conducted a rather unique cross-cultural analysis from six different countries to see if people across specific and diverse places share ideas about global climate change.

What they found was that signs of climate change appear to be recognized cross-culturally, irrespective of context and geographical location.

"Although data was collected through place-based methods we still find evidence of a shared cultural model of climate change which spans the diverse sites in the six countries"

Beatrice Crona, co-author

In fact, there were specific signs of climate change which appear to be recognized cross-culturally. This suggests the emergence of a 'global', cross-cultural mental model around climate change and its potential impacts, Beatrice Crona says.

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Old methodologies, new applications
Existing comparative studies of climate change perceptions are often hampered by the fact that sites are compared and contrasted within a similar cultural, linguistic and socio-economic context. Furthermore, perspectives of indigenous peoples and developing countries are barely included even though their vulnerabilities to climate change can be profound.

In their study, Crona et. al examined cross-national datasets from Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, Equador and the US. The research was conducted as part of the Global Ethnohydrology Study, a multi-sited study examining cross-cultural knowledge on water and climate change, based at ASU.

The authors used a novel comparative appraoch to unravel the complexities of local vs global perceptions of climate change by extracting and comparing 'cultural knoweldge' regarding climate change using the theory of 'culture as consensus'.

At each site, participants responded to ethnographically derrived questions such as "are summers hotter now than they once were?", "is population growth a cause of climate change?" and "is ocean life dying off?"

Based on the replies, the researchers then examined whether there was a "globally shared" perception of climate change. Or put in another way, whether there are certain perspectives on climate change that people agree on, regardless of where they live.

A remarkably large consensus
The expectation was that respondents in each site would share perceptions of climate change but differ from those at other sites. Instead, the result was striking. The researchers found a shared recognition that climate change creates extensive changes and subsequent natural disasters and that it leads to serious health issues for humans.

"We found a remarkably high level of agreement across sites regarding the causes, signs and consequences of climate change," Crona explains.

For example, 84% of respondents globally agreed that rain patterns have changed in the last 25 years.

Furthermore, there was even a global consistency on issues where the local perception of an issue might be considered stronger in a specific location compared to globally. Respondents in Fiji unsurprisingly said that climate change was undermining fishing livelihoods and incomes, but this perspective was supported by 79% of all the people interviewed.

"Cultural consensus analysis gives us the means to identify cross-cultural patterns in how people conceptualize climate change and it provides a way of linking perceptions at both local and global scales. This is important given the pervasive character of climate change and the growing demand for mitigation, both globally and locally," Crona concludes.

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Published: 2013-03-29



Crona, B.I, Wutich, A., Brewis, A., Gartin, M. (2013) Perceptions of climate change: Linking local and global perceptions through a cultural knowledge approach. Climatic Change XX:xx-xx 10.1007/s10584-013-0708-5

Beatrice Crona's research focuses on resource governance issues with particular focus on marine related topics. Broadly, her research can be divided into three strands: The role of social networks in natural resource governance, Multi-level governance, knowledge transfer and the role of boundary-bridging organizations for adaptive governance, and the role of trade in marine resource governance outcomes: understanding cross-scale signals, straps and trajectories.