Perceived risk characteristics and mental models of climate change among university students

BOSTROM A, O'CONNOR RE, BÖHM G, HANSS D, BODI O, EKSTRÖM F, HALDER P, JESCHKE S, MACK B, QU M, ROSENTRATER L, SANDVE A AND SÆLENSMINDE I. 2012. Causal Thinking and Support for Climate Change Policies: International Survey Findings. Global Environmental Change 22: 210 – 222. 
Few comparative international studies describe the climate change policies people are willing to support and the reasons for their support of different policies. Using survey data from 664 economics and business undergraduates in Austria, Bangladesh, Finland, Germany, Norway, and the United States, we explore how perceived risk characteristics and mental models of climate change influence support for policy alternatives. General green policies such as funding research on renewable technologies and planting trees were the overwhelmingly most popular policy alternatives. Around half the students support carbon reduction policies such as requiring higher car fuel efficiency and increasing taxes on fossil fuels. Least popular were engineering alternatives such as fertilizing the oceans and replacing fossil fuels with nuclear power. Variations among nations are generally small. Support for different policy alternatives corresponds with different causal thinking. Those who hold a pollution model of the causes of climate change, tend to blame environmental harms (e.g., air pollution from toxic chemicals), see general green policy alternatives as effective, and support general green policies. Support of carbon reduction strategies is associated with seeing carbon emissions as the cause and reducing carbon emissions as effective solutions. Support of engineering solutions increases with identifying volcanoes among causes and regarding engineering solutions as effective. Although these international students agree that climate change is a threatening problem, their causal thinking correlates with support for different mitigative policy actions, with the most popular ones not necessarily the most effective.
► Business undergraduates in six countries see climate change as a threat and support policies to address it. ► Three distinct patterns of causal thinking emerge that correlate with support for corresponding mitigative policies. ► The three most popular solutions are general “green” policies, the two least popular geoengineering. ► The policy with the second highest “no” votes is increasing taxes on fossil fuels.

Keywords: Climate change; Causal thinking; International opinion; Policy options; Mental models; Risk perception


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