I Will Survive: Perceptions of Personal and Global Climate Change Risks

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Danielle Chipman, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Although people may recognize the potential harmful effects of climate change, they do not always perceive themselves as vulnerable to these effects. This analysis examines survey responses to two questions that asked participants to rate both their personal risk and the global risk for climate change impacts on food production, biodiversity, water availability, natural disasters, coastal changes, standard of living, and disease. We then look at how these risk perceptions vary based on a country’s level of development. The current literature on risk perceptions lacks sufficient discussion of how subjective views of climate change impacts vary across geographic contexts, and this study aims to fill that gap by examining a variety of risk perceptions across eight different countries using comparisons of closed-ended survey data.  Further, we evaluate the connection between perceived risks and a country’s contribution to climate change and its proactiveness in mitigating its effects. The work is based on data from Arizona State University’s Global Ethnohydrology Study in 2012, which consisted of in-person surveys and interviews about climate change uncertainty in Australia, China, Fiji, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The results show that the developing countries in this study – China, Fiji, and Mexico – tend to be more concerned about the effects of climate change. Survey respondents in several of the high-polluting developed countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, consistently show less concern about climate change risks. Overall, most people exhibit a trend towards distancing themselves from the problems of climate change, acknowledging the global risks while expressing less concern that they will be personally affected. The results of this study can illuminate how people understand and respond to climate change, so that educators and policymakers can more effectively tailor their efforts to different populations.