Climatic Change

, Volume 93, Issue 1, pp 15-37

First online:

Misperceptions of global climate change: information policies

  • Erling MoxnesAffiliated withSystem Dynamics Group, Department of Geography, University of Bergen
  • , Ali Kerem SayselAffiliated withInstitute of Environmental Sciences, Boǧaziçi University Email author 

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Previous experimental studies have found that people generally misperceive the basic dynamics of renewable resources, and in particular the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. The purpose of the present laboratory experiment is to find out why people misperceive the dynamics of CO2 accumulation and how misperceptions could be avoided. Using a simulator, 242 subjects were each asked to control total global emissions of CO2 to reach a given target for the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere. Consistent with previous investigations we find a strong tendency for people to overshoot the stated goal. Furthermore, our results point out that people need help to develop proper mental models of CO2 accumulation and they need motivation to reconsider inappropriate decision heuristics. Based on these results and the literature on conceptual change a new information strategy is designed. To motivate, it imposes cognitive conflict; and to facilitate new understanding, it provides simple analogies. A new test shows promising learning effects. The results have important implications for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), governments, and media covering the climatic change issue as well as for general education.