Climate Priorities

Climate change now ranks only third amongst the issues that Europeans consider to be the world’s most serious problem.

The most serious global Issue is seen as ‘poverty, the lack of food and drinking water’ with the global economic downturn now ranking second.

The Eurobarometer survey of Europeans’ attitudes towards climate change showed that in early 2009 50% of Europeans saw climate change as the world’s greatest problem but this represents a decline in importance compared with the 2008 EU survey when 62% of Europeans expressed that view.

The Eurobarometer environment survey of 2007 reported that 57% of citizens placed climate change as top environmental concern, an increase compared with 24% in 2004.

UK citizens are currently amongst the most sceptical about climate change in Europe. In early 2009 51% of UK citizens considered it to be a serious issue compared with 67% for the EU as a whole, but 17% of UK citizens said that climate change is not a serious problem, contrasting with 10% for the EU as a whole.

That Europeans apparently feel that climate change is less important than they did previously is an apparent paradox when information about climate change figures prominently in the news in the run up to COP15 Copenhagen.

In 2009 more than half of Europeans said that they felt well informed about the cause, consequences and methods of fighting climate change (although there are quite wide national variations).

It had been suggested that the world financial crisis being the top news issue in late 2008-9 may have affected the public perception of important world issues including climate change.

However there may be more significant factors underlying apparent decline in interest in what is a major threat to all humanity.

Embedded in humans’ psychology is a response to threats that are immediate and personal. Climate change as a threat seems large, but diffuse and remote and lacking immediate personal impacts.

Climate change fails to trigger the ‘fight and flight’ response with which humans are programed to respond to threats. Indeed if the threat is seen as too large and complex for solution at a local, human scale it may invoke feelings of helplessness be dismissed as insoluble.

European citizens may say that they are well informed about climate change, but feeling that an individual cannot make a difference may engender a business as usual response and declining interest in climate change as an issue.

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