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Lay Perceptions of Global Risk: Public Views of Global Warming in Cross-National Context

Publication Type:

Journal Article


International Sociology, Volume 13, p.473- (1998)



This article reports results from a 1992 Gallup survey conducted in six nations (Canada, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Portugal and Russia) that explored public perceptions of global warming in some detail. Overall the results tend to support those of the small-scale but in-depth studies on which the present study built: Lay publics in these six nations see global warming as a problem, although not as serious as ozone depletion or rain forest destruction. Most people acknowledge that they do not understand global warming very well, and results from questions about the perceived causes and consequences of global warming illustrate their limited understanding. While often confusing global warming with ozone depletion and air pollution, majorities of respondents in all but Russia believe that it is already occurring and large majorities within all nations believe that it will occur within their lifetimes. Furthermore, as discussions of the `risk society' suggest, public perceptions of global warming do not vary consistently across differing social strata within the nations. The article ends by discussing implications of the results, and questions whether detailed public understanding of highly complex issues like global warming is feasible or even necessary for effective policy-making.