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International Public Opinion, Perception, and Understanding of Global Climate Change

Natural scientists have described global warming as perhaps the preeminent environmental risk confronting the world in the 21st century. Meanwhile, social scientists have found that public risk perceptions strongly influence the way people respond to hazards. What the public perceives as a risk, why they perceive it that way, and how they will subsequently behave are thus vital questions for policy makers attempting to address global climate change, in which the effects are delayed, have inequitable distributions of costs and benefits, and are beyond the control of any one group. Public support or opposition to proposed climate policies will also be greatly influenced by their risk perceptions. Further, “scientists need to know how the public is likely to respond to climate impacts or initiatives, because those responses can attenuate or amplify the impacts” (Bord, Fisher, & O’Connor, 1998, p. 75).

This thematic paper summarizes international public opinion, perception, and understanding of global climate change and reports results from an in-depth study of public climate change risk perceptions, policy preferences and individual behaviors in the United States.