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What shapes perceptions of climate change?

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Climate change, as a slow and gradual modification of average climate conditions, is a difficult phenomenon to detect and track accurately based on personal experience. Insufficient concern and trust also complicate the transfer of scientific descriptions of climate change and climate variability from scientists to the public, politicians, and policy makers, which is not a simple transmission of facts. Instead, worldview and political ideology, two elements of the cultural context of decisions, guide attention toward events that threaten the desired or existing social order, and shape expectations of change, which in turn guide the detection and interpretation of climate events. Action that follows from climate change perceptions can be informed by different processes. Affect‐based decisions about climate change are unlikely to motivate significant action, as politicians and the general public are not particularly worried about climate risks, and because attempts to scare people into greater action may have unintended negative consequences. Analysis‐based decisions are also unlikely to result in significant action, because of large discounting of uncertain future costs of climate risks compared to the certain and immediate costs of climate change mitigation. Rule‐based decisions that determine behavior based on moral or social responsibility may hold out the best prospects for sustainable action. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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