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You’re probably underestimating the willingness of your fellow citizens to act on climate


You’re probably underestimating the willingness of your fellow citizens to act on climate

The world is in a state of pluralistic ignorance, a new international study finds. And dispelling the unfounded pessimism is a key to tackling climate change.
February 20, 2024

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Nearly 70% of the global population would give up 1% of their household income to stop climate change, according to a new survey of nearly 130,000 people in 125 countries.

“The results are tremendously encouraging,” says study team member Armin Falk, a behavioral economist at the University of Bonn in Germany. “A very high proportion of the world’s population is willing to incur a personal economic cost to fight climate change and demands intensified political action.”

But most people underestimate others’ willingness to contribute to fighting climate change, the study suggests – and this erroneous perception could hamper climate action.

Falk and his colleagues designed a short Global Climate Survey to be fielded as part of the Gallup World Poll 2021/2022. The survey revealed that worldwide, 86% of people believe that people in their country should try to fight global warming, and 89% believe that their government should do more on the issue.

What’s more, an estimated 69% of the global population is willing to contribute 1% of their household income to stop climate change, a figure roughly congruent with the estimated cost of effective climate action.


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The proportion of people willing to contribute 1% varies across countries, but is greater than half in 114 of 125 countries and greater than two-thirds in 81 of 125. The findings appear in the journal Nature Climate Change.

While 69% of people worldwide are willing to contribute 1% of their income to the fight against climate change themselves, on average people say they think just 43% of their fellow citizens would be willing to do the same – a 26-percentage-point gap.

“In fact, only 30% of the world’s population believes that a majority of people in their country is willing to contribute 1%,” Falk says. “We document that in every single country, the willingness of fellow citizens to fight climate change is systematically underestimated.”

This misunderstanding of others’ beliefs, which scientists call ‘pluralistic ignorance,’ could hamper climate action. This is because in many situations, people exhibit so-called ‘conditional cooperation,’ meaning that they are more willing to contribute to collective action when they think others are too. In fact, the researchers found evidence of conditional cooperation in the current study: At both the country and the individual level, there was a correlation between willingness to contribute 1% of income and perceptions of others’ willingness to contribute.

“The results of our study suggest a potentially effective strategy to further increase individual willingness to fight climate change: Informing people about the true share of people in their country who are willing to incur a personal cost to fight global warming,” Falk says.

That notion is at odds with another recent study by a separate group of researchers who tested an intervention aimed at correcting pluralistic ignorance. They found that telling people what percentage of people in their country agree that climate change is a global emergency did not increase study participants’ climate belief or climate action. But, Falk says, “It may be more effective to inform participants about other people’s actual willingness to fight climate change than about other people’s views on whether climate change should be regarded as a problem.”

A previous study by Falk and his collaborators supports the idea that correcting misperceptions about fellow citizens’ climate-friendly behaviors can increase people’s willingness to act.

The researchers aim to probe the reasons people underestimate other people’s willingness to act against climate change, Falk says. “Understanding more about the origins of this perception gap may help us design more effective policies in the future.”

Source: Andre P. et al.Globally representative evidence on the actual and perceived support for climate action.” Nature Climate Change 2024.

Image: ©Anthropocene Magazine

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