What your neighbors think about climate change: the geography of perceptions, beliefs, & behaviors in the U.S.

Peter Howe, Utah State University (Bend, OR): What your neighbors think about climate change: the geography of perceptions, beliefs, & behaviors in the U.S.

“Climate change presents a major long-term challenge for social sustainability, and current trends in public policy and individual behavior may not be sufficient to address the problem. In the United States, effectively responding to climate change will likely require the enactment of national, state, and local mitigation and adaptation policies as well as changes in individual behavior. The success of these initiatives depends on public opinion, risk perceptions, policy support, and behaviors at a variety of geographic scales. Public perceptions, however, are typically measured with national surveys that obscure geographic variability across regions, states, and localities. State-level or local-level surveys are not regularly conducted in each state, city, or county of the U.S., and even when survey data are available they often use incompatible item wordings that make comparison difficult.

This presentation will introduce a new methodology and dataset that provides high-resolution maps of public perceptions of climate change across the U.S. at geographic scales that are relevant to decision making. The methodology, multilevel regression and poststratification, uses a statistical model based on a large sample of nationally representative public opinion survey data and a concise set of demographic and geographic predictors to create comprehensive estimates of public perceptions across the U.S. The results were independently validated by external surveys, showing that model reliably predicts climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy preferences at the state, congressional district, metropolitan, and county levels. The analysis finds substantial variation in public opinion across the nation. Although nationally 63% of Americans believe global warming is happening, county-level estimates range from 43-80%, leading to a diversity of political environments for climate policy.

There is a demonstrated need among decision makers for locally relevant information about climate change. In response to this need, climate scientists have developed a variety of methods of to “downscale” climate model projections from global models to the regional and local scale. However, analogous techniques to “downscale” data representing the social dimensions of climate change, such as public perceptions and beliefs, have been less fully developed. In response, this research provides a tool for providing locally relevant data on human perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding climate change. These estimates provide an important new source of information for policymakers, educators, and scientists to more effectively address the challenges of climate change.”