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Support for climate policy and societal action are linked to perceptions about scientific agreement

Nature Climate Change volume 1, pages 462466 (2011) | Download Citation


Although a majority of US citizens think that the president and Congress should address global warming, only a minority think it should be a high priority1. Previous research has shown that four key beliefs about climate change—that it is real, human caused, serious and solvable—are important predictors of support for climate policies2. Other research has shown that organized opponents of climate legislation have sought to undermine public support by instilling the belief that there is widespread disagreement among climate scientists about these points3—a view shown to be widely held by the public1. Here we examine if this misperception is consequential. We show that the misperception is strongly associated with reduced levels of policy support and injunctive beliefs (that is, beliefs that action should be taken to mitigate global warming). The relationship is mediated by the four previously identified key beliefs about climate change, especially people’s certainty that global warming is occurring. In short, people who believe that scientists disagree on global warming tend to feel less certain that global warming is occurring, and show less support for climate policy. This suggests the potential importance of correcting the widely held public misperception about lack of scientific agreement on global warming.

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The study was funded by the Surdna Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Pacific Foundation, the Grantham Foundation, Prism Public Affairs and a Health Policy Investigator Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors wish to acknowledge T. Myers at George Mason University for her help with statistical analyses.

Author information


  1. Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

    • Ding Ding
  2. Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, 9245 Skypark Ct. Suite 230, San Diego, California 92123, USA

    • Ding Ding
  3. Center for Climate Change Communication, Department of Communication, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Research 1/251, Fairfax, Virginia 22030, USA

    • Edward W. Maibach
    • , Xiaoquan Zhao
    •  & Connie Roser-Renouf
  4. Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06405, USA

    • Anthony Leiserowitz


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E.W.M. and D.D. conceptualized the research question. D.D. conducted data analysis and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. X.Z. provided statistical assistance. E.W.M., C.R-R., X.Z and A.L. wrote and revised parts of the manuscript. A.L., E.W.M. and C.R-R. designed and conducted the national survey.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Edward W. Maibach.

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