In order to look at American attitudes on what we refer to as ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change,’ you don’t need to go any further than John Oliver’s latest take on his new HBO show, detailing how the media is failing to report facts, and instead likes to conflate opposing views on even scientific and factual subjects. We’re facing by far the biggest challenge that any of us have ever seen, and we’re sitting around talking about whether it’s real or not.
But are we alone in this struggle with ourselves? How do our attitudes as Americans stack up to others around the world?
I’m going to try to save a few people about 5 to 10 minutes on Google by taking a look at some of what’s on the Internet about international opinion.
One of the best contrasts is to look at European views on the issue. That’s not because they’re inherently ‘so much smarter than us’ or ‘so much more advanced’ etc. but because our societies are similar in other ways. Some of those ways are related to legacies of colonialism or our actual ‘birth’ as a nation from quasi-EU state, or should I say neighbor, Brittania – other reasons also make it easier to get Euro-views — namely, we speak the same language – (since English has been being adopted as the official language of the EU.)
So what do Europeans think?
A set of official EuroBarometer studies from the European Commission and European Parliament in 2008 provide some telling details. The studies use both phrases, ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change,’ to try to figure out how dire Eurocitizens generally consider the problem to be.
One finding of the study is that European countries feature populations where the majority see global warming climate change as a serious problem, ranking right up there with lack of drinking water. The study mentions that the rates are lower for the Czech Republic, as well as Italy and Portugal, and that Cyprus and Greece had the highest levels of respondents who really felt alarmed about the issue.
A simpler point to contrast to the American consensus is that three quarters of Europeans think that global warming and climate change is a very serious problem, while an additional 15% find it a fairly serious problem.
That leaves about 7% of Europeans who do not think that it is a serious problem. The study shows that the highest levels of non-seriousness about the issue are in the UK and the Netherlands, as well Estonia, where over one in ten citizens would downplay the problematic nature of global warming.
The study breaks down respondents into various other demographic groups, but this basically gives us our answer. According to these reports, there’s not a strong back-and-forth debate within the European Union about whether global warming exists.
More Attitudes Around the World
Another report by Pew Global in 2006 shows the United States well in the lead when it comes to downplaying climate change, with 47% of Americans saying they’re only concerned “a little bit or not at all.”
Next is China, with 37%.
After that, there’s Germany at 36%.
I forgot to mention Pakistan at 39%.
Countries like Indonesia, Egypt and Jordan have much lower numbers, with countries like Spain and France down at 14%.
Japanese are down to 7% on the same metric, with Indians at 13% and Nigerians at 20%.
Bear in mind, this study takes into account people’s access to information — in other words, if people don’t know about global warming, it’s hard to get their opinions.
But to return to the main idea here: in the United States, we’re super informed about a lot of things, and global warming is one of them. That’s why I’ve been hearing so much on the radio, just today, about melting glaciers. The question is what do we do with the information that we get? Apparently, a disproportionate number of us decide to make up our own opinions, regardless of actual science coming out on the issue, even when it starts looking pretty much unquestionable. It’s a shame, because this isn’t like other issues that you can disregard when you want to. This is something that’s going to affect all of us, and when it comes, we’re probably not even really going to be able to put into words how important it is. But as you can see here, we’ll always know how unimportant it was, until the very last minute.