Sebastian Levi finds social and political conditions tied to belief in climate change

New study published in Communications Earth & Environment examines data in 143 countries.

Despite a decades-old global scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change, climate change remains a controversial topic in many countries. Around the world, many people remain unaware of global warming or doubt the human impact on climate change. A new study by Hertie School postdoctoral researcher Sebastian Levi observes that country-level economic, social, and political conditions could influence whether or not individuals believe in human-made climate change.

The paper, “Country-level conditions like prosperity, democracy, and regulatory culture predict individual climate change belief”, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment on 26 February 2021, is one of the broadest analyses of climate change belief around the world, says Levi. Previous studies have mainly focused on Western, English-speaking democracies and have included little data on the Global South. Levi, in contrast, evaluated data from almost 400,000 individuals from 143 countries collected by the Gallup World Poll between 2007 and 2010 to see how social circumstances like environmental protection, civil liberties, and economic development relate to individual attitudes. 

Using a “random forest” analysis, a method from machine learning, Levi found that such country-level conditions are “highly predictive of individual climate change belief.” Moreover, he also found “individual education and internet access to be strongly predictive of climate change awareness, but much less predictive of belief in climate change’s anthropogenic causes.”

Levi also notes that this is the first study that finds significant correlations between civil liberties and climate change belief and between the presence of NGOs and scientists and individual climate change belief. In addition, he says, this study is the first that shows the complex and non-linear patterns in which societal circumstances like economic development relate to individual climate change belief.

Find the study here.

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