Climate Change Awareness: A Look at the Numbers

I have to admit that in 2007, I knew very little about climate change. I had certainly heard of it, but at the time didn’t consider how serious of an issue it is. In the last eight years I have learned a lot more about it, and for the past five years I have been working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by helping local businesses reduce their energy use through SBC’s Sierra Nevada Energy Watch program.

It seems as though my awareness, and thus my level of concern, in 2007 lined up pretty well with the majority of people on earth. An article published online in Nature on July 27, 2015 indicates that about 40% of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change. Lead author Tien Ming Lee, a Princeton University researcher, and his co-authors of the Nature article used data from a 2007-08 Gallup World Poll that gathered climate change opinion data from over 100 countries.

The story becomes even more nuanced when breaking down interests of different continents and countries. The graph below from the Nature article indicates that most Americans are aware of climate change, but only 50-69% consider climate change a serious threat. Canadians and Europeans are more concerned than Americans. Latin Americans and many Africans are the most concerned of the world’s populations.

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According to a July 14, 2015 Pew Research Center article by Jill Carle, many counties in the world cite global climate change as a top threat relative to other international threats. The majority of people in Latin America and Africa say they are very concerned about climate change, but for other regions of the world it’s not perceived as the preeminent threat. As seen the map below, The Pew Research Center article states that the majority of Europeans and Middle Easterners cite ISIS as their main concern among international issues. Other top concerns include economic instability and threats from Russia, Iran and China.

COMM JR Blog GreatestThreatsAroundtheWorld 2015 10

The world is experiencing increasingly erratic weather patterns, and the scientific evidence shows that carbon dioxide, the worst of the chemicals contributing to climate change, is at the highest level on record as is seen in the NASA chart below.

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As President Obama said during his August 3, 2015 announcement of his Clean Power Plan: “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change. We’re the last generation that can do something about it.” I believe education, awareness and a clear path to a solution will change priorities. Personally, I hope more people learn like I did that this is an issue that may very well trump all others unless the world’s populations start considering climate change a top concern.

The Global Climate Summit in Paris wrapped up this weekend with an unprecedented 196 countries signing a new global climate agreement. The stakes at the Paris summit were extremely high, there was quite a lot of negotiating between the counties and it is an incredible achievement that consensus was achieved. Stay tuned for further analysis on the climate agreement adopted in Paris. I am hopeful that the global agreement reached at the Paris Climate Summit is the world’s starting point to a more informed populace able to make significant strides toward stopping climate change. Anything less would be reckless and immoral.