Climatic Change

, Volume 90, Issue 3, pp 333-341

First online:

Public concern over global warming correlates negatively with national wealth

  • Hanno SandvikAffiliated withCentre for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Email author 

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It has been shown previously that the awareness and concern of the general public about global warming is not only a function of scientific information. Both psychological and sociological factors affect the willingness of laypeople to acknowledge the reality of global warming, and to support climate policies of their home countries. In this paper, I analyse a cross-national dataset of public concern about global warming, utilising data from 46 countries. Based on earlier results at the national and regional level, I expect concern to be negatively correlated to national measures of wealth and carbon dioxide emissions. I find that gross domestic product is indeed negatively correlated to the proportion of a population that regards global warming as a serious problem. There is also a marginally significant tendency that nations’ per capita carbon dioxide emissions are negatively correlated to public concern. These findings suggest that the willingness of a nation to contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions decreases with its share of these emissions. This is in accordance with psychological findings, but poses a problem for political decision-makers. When communicating with the public, scientists ought to be aware of their responsibility to use a language that is understood by laypeople.