Knowledge as a driver of public perceptions about climate change reassessed


It is intuitive to assume that concern about climate change should be preceded by knowledge about its effects1,2. However, recent research suggests that knowledge about climate change has only a limited effect on shaping concern about climate change3,4,5,6. Our view is that this counterintuitive finding is a function of how knowledge is typically measured in studies about climate change. We find that if it is measured in a domain-specific and multidimensional way, knowledge is indeed an important driver of concern about climate change—even when we control for human values. Likewise, different dimensions of knowledge play different roles in shaping concern about climate change. To illustrate these findings, we present the results from a survey deployed across six culturally and politically diverse countries. Higher levels of knowledge about the causes of climate change were related to a heightened concern. However, higher levels of knowledge about the physical characteristics of climate change had either a negative or no significant effect on concern. Efforts aimed at improving public knowledge about climate change are therefore not the lost cause that some researchers claim they may be.

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Figure 1: The items used to assess three kinds of knowledge concerning climate change, their response distributions and scalabilities (Hi), and Loevinger’s scalability coefficient (H) and reliability (ρ) of the scales.


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Financial support for J. Shi, which was provided by the China Scholarship Council (CSC), is gratefully acknowledged. The authors also would like to thank Respondi AG, InterfaceASIA Holden and Insightrix Research Inc. for assistance with the survey.

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All authors contributed to the design, data collection and written presentation for the research reported here. In addition, J.S., V.H.M.V. and M.S. organized and managed the data collection in China, Germany, Switzerland and the UK and J.A. coordinated data collection in Canada and the US. J.S. was primarily responsible for data analysis and for the first complete draft of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jing Shi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Shi, J., Visschers, V., Siegrist, M. et al. Knowledge as a driver of public perceptions about climate change reassessed. Nature Clim Change 6, 759–762 (2016).

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