An international survey carried out by Yale University researchers and Meta analyzed how people around the world feel about climate change — how worried they are, who they think is to blame, and how likely they are to do something about it. While there were important differences between different countries, the survey paints an intriguing picture. Most people are aware and worried about climate change and think tackling climate change will be beneficial, but few would get involved and actually do something about it.
This report describes climate change beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, and behaviors among Facebook users in 110 countries and territories. In total, around 109,000 people were surveyed. You could argue that Facebook users may not be representative of the opinions of the entire population, but at 3 billion users, Facebook is a pretty good, though imperfect, sample. The survey did not include people in China or Russia, for instance.
Over half of the surveyed people say they know “a lot” or “a moderate amount” about climate change. Respondents in Finland (92%), Hungary (90%), Germany (84%), and Croatia (83%) are the most likely to say they know “a lot” or “a moderate amount.” After that, surveyors asked people whether they think climate change is happening. In almost every country, over 70% of people say they did.
But people were less convinced that climate change is primarily caused by human activity (something which has been demonstrated with overwhelming certainty by scientific research). For instance, just a minority of people in Indonesia (18%), Yemen (21%), and Haiti (23%) believe humans are to blame for our climate woes. Few countries had a strong majority that agreed with existing science.
Most people also seemed to believe that climate change is a problem for the future — although again, science is showing that climate change is already affecting us now and we’re already seeing intensifying disasters associated with climate change.
Nevertheless, most people felt like climate change should be a “very high” priority for the government. Large majorities in all but one surveyed area (109 out of 110) say that their country or territory should use either “much more” or “somewhat more” renewable sources of energy than it does currently.
Different countries also seemed to have different opinions about who is most responsible for addressing climate change. In 42 of the surveyed countries, respondents were more likely to feel that government is responsible for addressing climate change. In another 42, people said individuals are most responsible. In the remaining 25 countries, people put the responsibility on businesses.
Ironically, even in countries where people are very concerned about climate change, few people are likely to get involved in a group and try to take action to combat climate change. Notably, respondents in Sub-Saharan Africa are the most likely to say they are currently participating in such a group, or would “definitely” join, an organized group for climate action. Meanwhile, in North America and Europe, less than 1 in 3 people would even consider this. For instance, in Finland, where almost everyone says they understand climate change, just 9% would join such a group.
Ultimately, whether people are aware of it or not, climate change is happening, it is because of human activity, and it is affecting us already. But without popular support, measures that truly tackle climate change are unlikely to be taken.
The window for action to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which most researchers agree will avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, is still open – but closing fast. Among the most impactful things that each and every one of us can do are eating a more sustainable diet, traveling more sustainably (and avoiding long-distance traveling if possible), and supporting companies and politicians that focus on climate-friendliness and sustainability.