Climate crisis: who really cares?

Climate crisis: who really cares?

Public opinion in Portugal is one small, but very positive, part of the extraordinary divergence of thinking around the world on the subject of climate change, which is complicating what the overwhelming majority of climate scientists regard as a looming crisis that could become calamitous.

A high percentage of people in Portugal – higher than in the big majority of other countries – believe the scientific evidence that global warming is due to human activity and that it is “very” or “extremely” worrying.

Opinions vary greatly in the United States, the world’s second biggest polluter of greenhouse gasses. A huge number of people in the US don’t care about global warming and many don’t believe it’s a problem or even happening. A lot of this hinges on political ideology and the Christian religion, according to recent studies.

The Pew Research Centre, a think-tank based in Washington D.C., this month published the results of a comprehensive survey showing that a majority of Americans “appear sceptical” of climate scientists. No more than a third of the American public give climate scientists high marks for their understanding of climate change. Even fewer say climate scientists understand the best ways to address climate change.

Almost a quarter of all American Christians, including 38% of Protestant Evangelicals, do not think climate change is a serious problem or a problem at all, according to the Pew study.

Evangelicals are estimated to number about 100 million, not that far short of a third of the entire US population. Most are said to favour the conservative Republican policies.

A poll last year put the number of Catholic adults at 21% of the total US population, but politically they are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. They are also roughly split 50-50 on whether global warming is due to human activity, and if it is a serious problem or not.

Non-religious Americans tend to support the Liberal Democrats. Only 4% of atheists and 11% of agnostics consider climate change an insignificant problem.

Overall, there are relatively few climate change doubters or deniers in Portugal, a largely Socialist country where the predominant religion, Catholicism, is declining a lot. The Portuguese are all too familiar with severe heat waves, wildfires, droughts and rising sea levels. So, no wonder they accept the scientific evidence that global warming is happening long before the critical deadline limits of 2ºC, if not 1.5ºC, hoped for by 2050.

The young in Portugal are among the least confused and most concerned groups in Europe, in part because of this country’s well-understood vulnerability. They have little or no truck with the misinformation being put about by religious groups and large fossil fuel entities whose profits are endangered by the scientific truth.

The London School of Economics and Science reports that the UK’s main club for climate change deniers, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has continued to spread misinformation this year about the impacts of rising levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

A scholarly analysis has concluded that climate scepticism in Germany is underreported and that denial percentages are actually as high as in the USA.

A number of other international studies have found a surprising spread of attitudes in different countries. For example, a survey conducted across G20 countries revealed that more than 90% of people in India, the third largest polluter after China and the USA, wanted to do more to protect nature and stymie the effects of climate change.

Another study conducted this April showed that 21% of French respondents aged between 35 and 49 were climate sceptics, while 47% thought it “too late to reverse global warming”.

It emerged from a European Union survey this year that Norwegians are very sceptical and that only one in four believe global warming is caused by humans. This compares with eight in 10 Italians who do believe humans are responsible.

The latest European Social Survey, an academically driven study conducted across Europe every two years, reports that there has been a particularly large increase in those who are seriously concerned about climate change in Sweden and Hungary. Italy and Spain rank very highly in this regard, but only in Portugal are more than 50% of people “very” or “extremely” worried, according to this survey.


Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: