A supermajority of Americans are concerned about climate change and support transformative policies, but most people don’t realize that. This widespread misconception could be harming efforts to meaningfully push back against climate change’s existential threat.
“These misperceptions represent … a self-fulfilling prophecy: one where underappreciated levels of support for climate policy inhibit support for climate solutions needed, and undermine nascent efforts at substantive change,” a study, published in Nature Communications, reads.
About 80 to 90 percent of Americans drastically underestimate the popularity of policies like carbon taxes, fully renewable energy mandates, and the Green New Deal. They estimate that just 37 to 43 percent of Americans support climate change mitigation, but in actuality as many as 80 percent actually do.
These perceptions vary by political party. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all estimate that less than half of the general public is concerned about the climate or supports climate-related policies. In reality, the numbers of people who care are much higher. Republican estimates were about 5 to 12 percent lower than Democrats’.
Dubbed “pluralistic ignorance” by the study’s authors, this false social reality could actually derail efforts to fight climate change. People are less likely to want to discuss and organize around unpopular issues and more likely to conform to policies that they believe a majority of their peers support.
It’s telling that Republicans tend to rank support for climate change policy lower than Democrats or Independents because people tend to overestimate how many others agree with them. Many liberals, by contrast, tend to think that their opinions are less common than they actually are, the study’s authors wrote.
Local policies could also influence Americans’ opinions if they live in more conservative states or states with less publicized organizing around climate change. Also, when it comes to large and fast shifts in public policy, the perceptions around support tend to lag by decades.
Finally, media consumption has been linked to this so-called “false social reality.” Although consumers of all sorts of media outlets tend to underestimate by as much as 30 percent how concerned their fellow Americans are about climate change, consumers of both far right outlets like Fox News and Breitbart and "other liberal outlets," tend to have higher magnitudes of misunderstanding.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has continued to sound the alarm on climate change, urging nations to come together to reach net zero emissions by 2050 in an effort to limit global warming. There is already evidence that the Earth has met or surpassed tipping points that could be catastrophic for major ecosystems.