A study published in Nature Climate Change, involving data from over 60 countries, suggests that the link between education and attitudes towards climate change depends on a country’s level of development and an individual’s political ideology.
Previous research has suggested that the influence of a person’s education on their support for climate change varies depending on that person’s political beliefs. However, much of this research has taken place in the United States. Study authors Gabriela Czarnek and associates suggest that the interplay between education, climate change beliefs, and ideology is likely to change depending on a country’s socioeconomic status.
“We hypothesize that the effects of education vary depending on political ideology among highly developed countries, and these interactive effects are less evident in countries that are struggling economically,” Czarnek and her team say.
The researchers analyzed data from three large, international surveys that together explored 64 countries. A total of more than 100,000 participants were interviewed concerning their beliefs towards climate change. The measures of pro-climate change attitudes differed in each sample but included awareness of climate change, belief about whether climate change is human-caused, belief in the seriousness of climate change, and support for policies concerning climate change.
The researchers conducted multilevel regressions to look for significant effects between variables. Overall, the analysis revealed that a respondent’s level of education was associated with pro-climate change attitudes. In line with the researchers’ hypothesis, this relationship was influenced by political ideology and by a country’s level of development.
Among countries with a low human development index (HDI), the effects of education on climate change beliefs were positive for both those identifying with leftist ideology and those identifying with rightist ideology. For countries with high HDI, these effects were still positive for both leftists and rightists but were weaker for those with rightist ideology.
In other words, rightist ideology appeared to weaken the positive effect of education on pro-climate change beliefs, but only in more developed countries. This effect was strongest when looking at respondents’ support for policies to mitigate climate change. As Czarnek and colleagues note, “This confirms previous findings indicating that when it comes to issues such as climate change, what is most divisive is not the characterization of the problem itself but the proposed solutions associated with the problem.”
Only a few highly developed countries, such as the United States, showed a negative effect of education on climate change beliefs for rightists. The authors press the need to, “embrace non-US-centric approaches” to such large-scale issues carrying worldwide relevance.
“It seems that enhancing education might be key to improving public beliefs about climate change in the majority of the countries analyzed. However, more research is also needed to understand why education has negative effects on climate change beliefs in some countries,” the authors conclude.
The study, “Right-wing ideology reduces the effects of education on climate change beliefs in more developed countries”, was authored by Gabriela Czarnek, Małgorzata Kossowska, and Paulina Szwed.