Right-wing ideology reduces the effects of education on climate change beliefs in more developed countries

Abstract

The effects of education on people’s climate change beliefs vary as a function of political ideology: for those on the political left, education is related to pro-climate change beliefs, whereas for those on the political right, these effects are weak or negative. This phenomenon has been examined mainly in the US, where climate change has become a highly politicized issue; however, climate change is less politicized in other contexts. Here we analyse the effects of education and political ideology across 64 countries and show that education has positive effects on pro-climate change beliefs at low and mid-levels of development. At higher levels of development, right-wing ideology attenuates (but does not reverse) the positive effects of education. These analyses extend previous findings by systematically investigating the between-country variation in the relationship between education, ideology and climate change beliefs. The current findings suggest that US-centric theories on the topic should not be generally applied to other contexts uncritically.

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Fig. 1: The effect of education on climate change awareness in Europe.
Fig. 2: The effects of education on the belief that climate change is human-caused for the political right and left at high and low HDI.
Fig. 3: The effects of education on the perception of climate change seriousness for the political right and left at high and low HDI.
Fig. 4: The effects of education on support for climate change policy for the political right and left at high and low HDI.

Data availability

Country-level data HDI are available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/data.

Per capita carbon emission data are available at https://databank.worldbank.org/source/world-development-indicators/Type/TABLE/preview/on.

European Social Survey data are available at https://www.europeansocialsurvey.org/data/download.html?r=8.

World Value Survey data are available at http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWVL.jsp.

Data from Hornsey et al.27 are available at https://osf.io/qzxv9/?view_only=852910a2c08c42018edf84a0b556aa14.

Code availability

The analysis code is available at https://osf.io/6ebna/.

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Acknowledgements

The research was supported by RIKSBANKENS JUBILEUMSFOND (grant no. M18-0310:1; 2019–2024). We thank T. Lindholm for providing comments to an early version of the paper and A. Mansure for helping to prepare the figures.

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Authors

Contributions

G.C. and M.K. contributed to the design of the study. G.C. conducted analyses. All authors contributed to the writing and editing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabriela Czarnek.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Matthew Ballew, Robin Bayes and Matthew Hornsey for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Per-country effects of left-right identification, education, and their interaction on climate change awareness (2016 European Social Survey data).

We first display the effects for the English-speaking countries and then the rest of the European countries by their HDI. Whiskers represent 95% confidence intervals.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Per-country effects of education for the political left and right on climate change awareness (2016 European Social Survey data).

The order of the countries reflects the charts with the coefficients presented in Extended Data Fig. 1. Grey shaded area represents 95% confidence intervals. CC = climate change.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Per-country effects of left-right identification, education, and their interaction on the beliefs that climate change is human-caused (2016 European Social Survey data).

We first display the effects for the English-speaking countries and then the rest of the European countries by their HDI. Whiskers represent 95% confidence intervals.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Per-country effects of education for the political left and right on the beliefs that climate change is human-caused (2016 European Social Survey data).

The order of the countries reflects the charts with the coefficients presented in Extended Data Fig. 3. Grey shaded area represents 95% confidence intervals. CC = climate change.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Per-country effects of the left-right identification, education, and their interaction on the beliefs that climate change is human-caused (data from Hornsey et al., 2018).

We first display the effects for the US and English-speaking countries, then for the European and the countries from other continents by their HDI. Whiskers represent 95% confidence intervals.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Per-country effects of education for the political left and right on the belief that climate change is human-caused (data from Hornsey et al., 2018).

The order of the countries reflects the charts with the coefficients presented in Extended Data Fig. 5. Grey shaded area represents 95% confidence intervals. CC=climate change.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Per-country effects of left-right identification, education, and their interaction on the perception of climate change seriousness (2005–2009 World Value Survey data).

We first display the effects for the US and English-speaking countries, then for the European countries and the countries from other continents by their HDI. Whiskers represent 95% confidence intervals.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Per-country effects of education for the political left and right on the perception of climate change seriousness (2005–2009 World Value Survey data).

The order of the countries reflects the charts with the coefficients presented in Extended Data Fig. 7. Grey shaded area represents 95% confidence intervals. CC=climate change.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Per-country effects of left-right identification, education, and their interaction on climate change policy support (2016 European Social Survey data).

We first display the effects for the English-speaking countries and then the rest of the European countries by their HDI. Whiskers represent 95% confidence intervals.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Per-country effects of education for the political left and right on climate change policy support (2016 European Social Survey data).

The order of the countries reflects the charts with the coefficients presented in Extended Data Fig. 9. Grey shaded area represents 95% confidence intervals. CC=climate change.

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Czarnek, G., Kossowska, M. & Szwed, P. Right-wing ideology reduces the effects of education on climate change beliefs in more developed countries. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-00930-6

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