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Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities


Of the climate science papers that take a position on the issue, 97% agree that climate change is caused by humans1, but less than half of the US population shares this belief2. This misalignment between scientific and public views has been attributed to a range of factors, including political attitudes, socio-economic status, moral values, levels of scientific understanding, and failure of scientific communication. The public is divided between climate change 'believers' (whose views align with those of the scientific community) and 'sceptics' (whose views are in disagreement with those of the scientific community). We propose that this division is best explained as a socio-political conflict between these opposing groups. Here we demonstrate that US believers and sceptics have distinct social identities, beliefs and emotional reactions that systematically predict their support for action to advance their respective positions. The key implication is that the divisions between sceptics and believers are unlikely to be overcome solely through communication and education strategies, and that interventions that increase angry opposition to action on climate change are especially problematic. Thus, strategies for building support for mitigation policies should go beyond attempts to improve the public’s understanding of science, to include approaches that transform intergroup relations.

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Figure 1: Structural model for believers.
Figure 2: Structural model for sceptics.

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We acknowledge support from the Australian Research Council through funding for the Discovery project ‘Pathways to social cohesion and social change: Opinion-based groups and the dynamic formation of identities’ (DP110100046, awarded to C.M. and A-M.B.) and Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DE120101029) ‘Mass generosity as collective action’ (awarded to E.F.T.).

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A-M.B. and C.M. contributed to study design, statistical analyses and writing. E.F.T. contributed to study design and writing. G.L. contributed to study design, data management and writing. M.B. and R.M. contributed to interpreting the findings and writing. All authors commented on the paper and participated in the process of refinement of the paper in response to the peer reviews.

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Correspondence to Ana-Maria Bliuc.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bliuc, AM., McGarty, C., Thomas, E. et al. Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities. Nature Clim Change 5, 226–229 (2015).

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