Individual understandings, perceptions, and engagement with climate change: insights from in-depth studies across the world
Public understandings and perceptions of, as well as engagement with, climate change have garnered the interest of research and policy for almost three decades. A portion of this growing body of literature examines such perceptions in-depth, using largely qualitative methodologies, such as personal interviews, limited sample size surveys, focus groups, and case studies. This area of research has been conducted on different continents, with individuals of different cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups, and a variety of demographic characteristics. It has examined various aspects of the communication process, such as audience differences, influence of framing, messages and messengers, information processing, etc.). This paper focuses on this subset of the climate change literature, highlighting similarities and differences across cultural, social, and geographical landscapes. Apart from demographic and regional differences, this literature also offers more detailed insights into the effectiveness of different communication strategies and into the cognitive and psychological processes that underlie public opinions. These insights are generally not obtained through large-scale opinion surveys. Our review highlights great variation and sometimes direct contradiction between these pieces of research. This not only points to a need for further refinement in our knowledge of public understanding and engagement, but also simply to accept that no one theory will explain the variation in human experience of climate change and action in response to it.