Global Warming in the American Mind: The Roles of Affect, Imagery, and Worldviews in Risk Perception, Policy Preferences and Behavior
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Natural scientists warn that global climate change is a risk with potentially devastating consequences for human societies and natural ecosystems around the world. Meeting this challenge will require a concerted national and international effort to dramatically reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It will also, however, require public support for political leaders and government mitigation policies, and committed action by individual citizens and consumers. This dissertation examined whether the American public perceives global warming as a real threat, supports public mitigation policies, or has taken individual actions to mitigate climate change. It found that measures of affect, imagery and cultural worldviews predict public risk perceptions, policy preferences, and individual behaviors. Finally, it used affective image analysis to identify several distinct "interpretive communities" within the American public. The data comes from three surveys: a national survey of the American public completed in February, 2003 (n=673); a statewide survey of the Oregon public completed in February, 2001 (n=900); and a survey of student activists at the 2000 World Climate Conference (COP6) in The Hague, Netherlands (n=112). This research describes an American public with broad concern about global warming, strong bipartisan support for international treaties and national mitigation policies, and strong opposition to higher energy or gasoline prices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Relatively few Americans have undertaken individual mitigation behaviors. While global warming does have negative connotations for most Americans, the thoughts and images evoked by this term primarily reflect impacts temporally and spatially distant from most people's lives. Critically, this research also finds that Americans do not currently associate global warming with any impacts on human health. Overall, these results suggest that American public opinion about global warming is at a critical turning point. Americans are aware and concerned about global climate change and predisposed to support political leaders and mitigation policies across party lines. Global warming is not a national priority, however, and Americans have yet to confront the tradeoffs that will ultimately be required.