How Belief in Climate Change Affects Legislation and Personal Sacrifice

by Patrick Quarberg

Surveys from New Zealand have indicated that climate change skepticism is on the rise. Comparing surveys from the early 2000s and the 2010s. Chris G. Sibley and Tim Kurz (2013) have found that there is an increasing proportion of people attributing climate change to natural causes, or denying its existence altogether. This information alone is surprising and alarming, as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident and the need to address climate change is growing. This is why Sibley and Kurz investigated the effect of increasing skepticism on voting habits and willingness to reduce personal consumption. Climate change deniers were identified through a forced-question survey and defined as people who attributed climate change to natural causes or who refused to accept its existence. Then, they tried to establish a correlation between these traits and support for climate-related legislation as well as personal efforts to reduce impact on the environment. After analyzing a survey from 2009 that covered a large variety of demographics in New Zealand, they found that there was a large correlation between support for public response to climate change and belief in climate change—as was expected. However, there was a weaker correlation between the strength of one’s belief in climate change and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to protect the environment. This finding is surprising, as one would expect those who believe in climate change, and believe that it is caused by humans, to be more willing to make changes in their lives than someone who completely denies the existence of climate change. This points out a very important detail about the current fight against climate change, which is that even though many people are indeed aware of climate change’s causes and effects, they are still not very willing to act against it. This issue in itself may hinder progress more than climate skepticism, and must be resolved if the fight against climate change is to gain any ground. However, Sibley and Kurz also found that just believing in climate change had a greater predictive effect on one’s support of carbon reducing legislation, suggesting that it is perhaps more important to just focus on establishing climate change as real than it is to attribute it to human causes, at least for now.

Kurz, T, Sibley C. G. 2013. A Model of Climate Belief Profiles: How Much Does It Matter If People Question Human Causation? Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Volume 13, pp. 245-261.


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