Dueling Opinion Polls: Is Climate Change the Top Global Concern — or Lowest?

by Marlo Lewis on July 19, 2015

in Blog

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A Pew Research Center survey of 45,435 respondents finds that “publics in 19 of 40 nations surveyed cite climate change as their biggest worry, making it the most widespread concern of any issue included in the survey.” Climate change ranks particularly high “in Latin America and Africa, where majorities in most countries say they are very concerned about this issue.”

Pew Survey Global Concerns July 2015








The survey, conducted during March 25-May 27, asks respondents whether they are “very concerned,” “somewhat concerned,” “not too concerned,” or “not at all concerned” about climate change, global economic instability, the Islamic Militant Group in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Iran’s nuclear program, Cyber attacks on governments, banks, or corporations, Tensions between Russia and its neighbors, and Territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.

But this just in, reported Friday on WattsUpWithThat. The United Nations “My World” Initiative, a global survey of citizens from all countries with votes totaling 7,679,273, finds that climate change “is dead last in the list of concerns queried.”

In the My World survey, Action on climate change ranks behind: A good education, Better health care, Better job opportunities, An honest and responsive government, Affordable and nutritious food, Protection against crime and violence, Access to clean water and sanitation, Support for people who can’t work, Better transportation and roads, Equality between men and women, Reliable energy at home, Freedom from discrimination and persecution, Political freedoms, Protecting forests, rivers, and oceans, and Phone and Internet access.






Why is climate change the top concern in the Pew survey but the lowest in the UN survey?

Results in the Pew survey are skewed by the form of the question it poses. The survey does not ask people which public health and welfare issues they care about most. Rather, it asks them to rank their concerns about seven “global” issues.

Four of the “global” concerns covered in the Pew survey are predominantly regional (ISIS, Iran’s nuclear program, Tensions between Russia and its neighbors, Territorial disputes between China and its neighbors). Unless respondents happen to live in the Mideast, Ukrane, or South China sea, those issues are unlikely to be their top concern.

Cyber attacks occur in all countries, but the vast majority are in the form of cyber crime and hacktivism rather than cyber espionage and cyber warfare. Presumably, then, most people view cyber security as a personal or business threat rather than as a national or global security problem.

Cyber Attacks 2012 by Month





Cyber Attacks 2012 

Even “global economic instability” these days is strongly associated with Greece and the Eurozone crisis. Climate change, on the other hand, is by definition “global.” So it’s hardly surprising climate change is the top “global” concern in the Pew survey.

The UN survey reveals that, for most people, the biggest challenges to public health and welfare are not global but national and local. Of 16 issues considered, climate change placed last.

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