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What's the deal w/ Norwegian public opinion on climate change?? What's the deal with ours?

Was just reading a really cool article, Aasen, M. The polarization of public concern about climate change in Norway., Climate Policy (2015), advance online publication.

Constructing Individualism and Egalitarian scales with items from Norwegian Gallup polls conducted between 2003-11, Aasen does find that both dispositions predict differences in concern w/ climate change -- less for former, more for latter.  

Climate change concern was measured with the single item ‘How concerned are you about climate change?’ The response categories were ‘Quite concerned’, ‘Very concerned’, ‘A little concerned’, and ‘Not at all concerned.'" Assuming, as seems certain!, that Norwegians have attitudes about climate change, it's pretty safe to expect a single item like this to tap into it in the same that the Industrial Strength Risk Perception Measure would.  Aasen likely handicapped her detection of the strength of the influences she measured, however, by dichotomizing this measure ("Quite concerned" & "very concerned" vs. "a little concerned" & "Not at all") rather than treating it as a 4 point ordinal one.

Aasen's "individualism" scale was apparently substantially more reliable than her "egalitarianism" one  (the α's are reported as "> 0.70" and "> 0.30," respectively).  But assuming the indicators have the requisite relationship with the underlying disposition, low reliability doesn't bias results; it just attenuates the strength of them.

So it's pretty cool to now see evidence of the same sorts of cultural divisions in Norway as we see in the US (Kahan et al. 2012), UK (Kahan et al. 2015), Australia (Guy, Kashima & O'Neill 2014), & Switzerland (Yi et al. 2015), etc.  Maybe Aasen will follow up by adapting the "cultural cognition worldview" scales for Norwegian sample!

But what really got my attention was the overall level of concern in the sample:

Yes, "individualism" and "Hierarchy" (the attitude opposite in valence to "egalitarianism") predict a steeper decline in concern after 2007, and obviously explain a lot more variance in 2011 than in 2003.

But look, first,  at how modest" concern" was even for most "egalitarian" and "communitarian" (opposite of individualistic) respondents; and, second, the universality of the decline in concern since 2007.


The climate-concern item seems to be the international equivalent of a Gallup item that asks U.S. respondents "how worried" they are about "global warming" or "climate change" ("great deal," "fair amount," "only a little," or "not at all").  Here's what U.S. responses (combining the equivalent response categories) look like (with the period the overlaps w/ Aasen's data bounded by dotted lines):


You can see that the divide along "individualist-communitarian" and "egalitarian-hierarchy" lines in Norway is less extreme than the Democrat-Republican one in the U.S.  Actually, if we had data for the U.S. respondents' cultural worldviews, the greater degree of polarization in the U.S. would be shown to be even more substantial. 

But again, that's not as intriguing to me is what the data show about the relative levels of "concern"/"worry" in the two nations.  The U.S. population is not particularly "worried" on average, but apparently Norwegians are even less "concerned," as can be see by this composite graphic, which charts the corresponding sets of responses for both nations, respectively, in the years for which there are data (note: Aasen supplied me with the Norwegian means; this Figure supercedes a slightly but not materially different one reflecting estimates from the model presented in the paper):

The trends are very comparable, and maybe the question wording or some cross-cultural exchange rate in how respondents indicate their attitudes explains the gap.

But clearly (by this measure at least) Norway is not more concerned than the U.S., which according to common wisdom "leads the world in climate denial."  

Indeed, the segment of society most culturally predisposed to worry about climate change in Norway is no more concerned than the "average" American.

So what's going on in that country?!

Maybe we can entice Aasen into a guest post.  I've already offered her the standard MOP$50,000.00 fee (payable in future stock options in CCP, Inc.), but I'm confident she, like other guests, will waive the fee to affirm that enlarging human knowledge is their only motivation for being a scholar  (of course, there is still ambiguity, given the fame & celebrity endorsements, particularly in Macao, that comes with being a CPP Blog guest poster).

We'll see what she says!

But for meantime, this very interesting & cool paper supplies material for a fresh lesson about the dangers of "selecting on the dependent variable" in the science of science communication: If one tests one's theory of U.S. public opinion on climate change by considering only how well it "fits" the data in the U.S., then obviously one will be excluding the possibility of observing both comparable states of public opinion in societies where the asserted explanation ("balanced media norms," a creeping public "anti-science" sensibility, Republican brains, etc.) doesn't apply and divergent states of public opinion in societies in which the asserted explanation applies just as well (Shehata & Hopmann 2012).


Aasen, M. The polarization of public concern about climate change in Norway., Climate Policy (2015), advance online publication.

Guy, S., Kashima, Y., Walker, I. & O'Neill, S. Investigating the effects of knowledge and ideology on climate change beliefs. European Journal of Social Psychology 44, 421-429 (2014).

Kahan, D.M., Hank, J.-S., Tarantola, T., Silva, C. & Braman, D. Geoengineering and Climate Change Polarization: Testing a Two-Channel Model of Science Communication. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 658, 192-222 (2015).

Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L.L., Braman, D. & Mandel, G. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change 2, 732-735 (2012).

Shehata, A. & Hopmann, D.N. Framing Climate Change: a Study of US and Swedish Coverage of Global Warming. Journalism Studies 13, 175-192 (2012).

Shi, J., Visschers, V.H.M. & Siegrist, M. Public Perception of Climate Change: The Importance of Knowledge and Cultural Worldviews. Risk Analysis 2015, advance on line.


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Reader Comments (15)

Dan, you may want to look into the work of sociologist Kari Marie Norgaard, who has done extensive work on climate change denial in Norway. She suggests denial has to do with the fact that the Norwegian economy is very dependent on oil.

October 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoel van der Weele

"So what's going on in that country?!"

Why is it any more surprising that they are less concerned than it would be if they were more concerned? Without the liberal-conservative tribal split, you don't get so many people worried-simply-because-they're-liberal, so there are effects that would push in both directions. There's no obvious reason to think the missing not-worried-simply-because-they're-conservative types must outnumber the worried-simply-because-they're-liberal. It could go either way.

Were you implicitly assuming that without the US's cultural pollution of the science communication environment that opinions would converge on the truth?! Heh! As I think I've said before - the general public is woefully misinformed or ignorant on a huge range of scientific questions. Why is the sky blue? How does electricity work? Why is the Higg's boson important enough to spend thirteen billion dollars of the taxpayers' hard-earned money on? The accuracy of public opinion on any such question is pretty much a random number. It's only on particular cultural shibboleths that anyone thinks this is at all shocking.

"But clearly (by this measure at least) Norway is not more concerned than the U.S., which according to common wisdom "leads the world in climate denial.""

That's common wisdom among liberals...!

October 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Joel-- you are right! Thanks. I am familiar with Norgaard's work but my own perplexity shows I have failed to learn as much as I should from it. (I think I have a picture in my mind, I think ill-formed, of "Norwegian public opinion" being more sprawling and general than the opinion dynamics she addresses).

October 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


things can go in many directions, certainly. It is useful to have an account, then, of why things end up where they do. Useful too to be shown by Aasen that there *is* division, even if appears less intense than in US.

I have a suspicion that the Gallup measure isn't of much value for comparing opinion across socitie--even though the Norwegian data comes from a "Eurobarometer" survey (actually, I think the researchers colleting that data don't pay nearly enough attention to the issue of cross-cultural validation of their survey items). I am eager to hear what Aasen or any other scholar of Norwegian public opinion would about about "US vs. Norway" in this regard.

Actually, I have visited Norway and was told by climate-science communication scholars there that opinion in that nation is multifaceted.

I have been told, too, that Swedish public opinion is much more decided "climate concerned."

Everything is mysterious to me; I can't help it.

October 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

It would be interesting to know more about their beliefs associated with climate change.

Are they like many American Tea Party "skeptics" who think that they are very well-informed about climate change, don't need to know anything else on the subject to make up their minds, and that the scientific argument that our climate is being significantly affected by ACOw is a hoax? Do they think that scientists who make such an argument are promoting pseudo-science in order to pursue funding and/or trying to destroy capitalism?

Are they uncertain about the range of impact on the climate from ACO2 emissions because all models are wrong but based on modeling are certain that mitigating those emissions will cause economic collapse?

Do they think that the temperature records have been deliberately modified by scientists in order to show warming in global SATs, even as they believe that those same records legiitimately show a "pause" in the warming such as to invalidate the theory that ACO2 emissions will significantly affect the climate?

October 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I'm not sure that there is anything particularly mysterious going on here that needs to be explained.
Several surveys in different countries have found a slight decrease in climate concern over the last decade or so.
Anderegg & Goldsmith (2014) found a general decline in interest, worldwide, since a peak in 2007, which fits with what is shown here.
Capstick et al (2014), "International trends in public perceptions of climate change over the past quarter century"
say that "Studies point to growing skepticism in the latter 2000s in some developed countries".
There's a paper by Tranter and Booth that looks at climate concern across several countries and picks out Australia, Norway and the USA as the most sceptical.
So the results of Aasen seems to fit with this other recent work.
Tranter & Booth suggest that there's a correlation between higher scepticism and higher carbon emissions.

October 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

Interesting links, Paul. Thanks.

==> " We conclude that the imbalance in the literature toward polling data, and toward studies of public perceptions in Western nations (particularly the United States), leaves much unknown about the progression of public understanding of climate change worldwide. "

Yet I read quite frequently from prominent "skeptics" and many blog commenters that they know, with great certainty, the causality behind "skepticism" in the U.S. and other countries.

I wonder what evidence they use for drawing their conclusions that Capstick et al. overlooked? :-)

October 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


we also hear from scholars many "confident" explanations of US opinion that seem to imply we should see things elsewhere that we don't (indeed, to imply things about what we should see in US that we don't either)

@Paul: Nothing to be explained anywhere, then. Sun rises & sets everyday, etc. CO2 emissions-- yes, I see the mechanism very clearly-- partcilarly why there is 50-50 split in Norway (only half the people in that country produce CO2 etc).

October 27, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


==> "we also hear from scholars many "confident" explanations of US opinion that seem to imply we should see things elsewhere that we don't (indeed, to imply things about what we should see in US that we don't either)"

Can you elaborate?

October 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


I refer to this at end of post. I don't think they have Fox News, e.g., in Norway; do they? Or the Koch Bros. Or "Republicans" w/ low "need for cognition" scores or jerry-rigged fMRI profiles? In Sweden, they apparently have the same patterns of media coverage (in particular what has been criticized as "balanced coverage" norm)-- but their is (according to work I've read) uniform acceptance of AGW, risks it poses, value of mitigation etc. (Shehata 2012).

Point of post, for *me*, was how easy it is to make mistakes when one excludes from sample the very cases most likely to falsify one's inference about how things relate to each other.

Obviously there is "ideological symmetry" here, too; in falling prey to the error, and in noticing it only when it affects the other side

October 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

And then there's Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes global warming is a “fraud” — a plot to keep Russia from using its vast oil and natural gas reserves.

Putin believes “there is no global warming, that this is a fraud to restrain the industrial development of several countries, including Russia,” Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst and Putin critic, told The New York Times.

Read more:

October 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua, yes, and Poland

Meanwhile, in the Conversation, self-deluding "Professor of Sustainable Enterprise" Andy Hoffman claims that "GOP is an outlier in the world on this position". Maybe he buries his head in the ground when news stories about Russia, Poland or Norway come up.

October 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

Seems to me that there cultural and environmental influences on (1) the magnitude and style of how identity protective cognition manifests and (2) which issues get targeted with identity-oriented struggles. Even assuming that there aren't other influences also (which I doubt), just mixing those two factors is enough to make prediction pretty questionable.

I can think of clients I've worked with who would not likely manifest identity-protective behaviors in the same way as what is more typical for Americans. For example, before disagreeing openly with me in public, a Korean would likely first want to know my age, profession, background,and income level.

Seems to me that to understand polarization on climate change from a cross-national perspective you have to: (1) measure ideological polarization more generally in given societies, respectively and, (2) measure to what degree climate change has been adopted into ideological identities.

Take gun control as an example: should we assume that there would be a similar ideological division on that issue in Japan say, as we see in the U.S.? Should we expect the same kind of ideological polarization around patriotism in the U.S. as is seen in Japan?

October 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I think that responses may depend on how the question is posed. What do the responders mean when they say they are not "concerned" or "worried"? (This also is dependent on the accuracy with which question and answers were translated between languages). How does that relate to what they actually believe to be happening with global climate?

Maybe they are being self centered and myopic. Analogous to this comment in my social media stream this morning: "First day of November and I'm out in short and sandals. In Denver. #thankyouglobalwarming"

Residents of Arctic neighboring countries, such as Russia, Canada, Sweden and Norway may not see themselves as climate change losers. Maybe they figure that they can not only cope with, but enjoy, their change in climate. Increases in usable lands may result. Perhaps more insights can be gained by analyzing the differences between Sweden and Norway with more precise questions. Does the oil wealth make Norwegians more likely to think that they can successfully navigate through a changing climate?

A key question globally might be: How much of the land mass of major cities is closer to sea level and likely to be inundated? What are the likely effects on local crop production? Global Climate Change is not equally negative. Some regions may be net gainers (at least if they can keep the disruptive effects of refugees from less fortunate places under control).

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"How much of the land mass of major cities is closer to sea level and likely to be inundated?"

Major cities near sea level tend to be built there because they are on fertile river plains or deltas, which are close to sea level because eroded material is dropped by rivers precisely where they reach sea level and stop flowing so quickly. This is geography 101 stuff - any geologist knows about it.

The actual relationship is a complicated combination of the river sediment mass, size of delta, coastal erosion rate, sediment compaction, and *rate* of sea level rise. The sediment mass divided by the delta area tells you how fast deposition raises the height of the land. Erosion and compaction define how fast it drops. The two come into balance with a given rate of sea level rise at a particular area of delta. If sea level continues to rise at the same rate, nothing happens, because all the river deltas have already reached steady state with it. (Sea level has been rising at the current rate at least since 1850.) If the *rate* of sea level rise increases, then the delta reduces in area a little, so that the same mass being deposited on a smaller area can keep up with the new rate of ascent. This decrease is a one-off, and the delta soon stops shrinking as it approaches the steady state again.

That's not to say there isn't a problem, though. As cities have developed modern infrastructure, they have often instituted measures to stop the periodic flooding that kept the land level with the sea. As the sediment continues to compact, the land drops, and is no longer rebuilt. So it soon falls below sea level - irrespective of sea level rise - and require engineering to stop the sea flooding in. Hence Venice, New Orleans, the Netherlands, etc. It's a problem, but it's caused by flood engineering, not climate change.

There are of course engineering solutions to the problem as well, many techniques dating back centuries. The simplest of course is to just move the city. If you build any new buildings on higher ground, then gradually over a century or so as the oldest buildings wear out, are demolished, and replaced, the entire city can be slowly moved. It costs society virtually nothing, (although there are individual winners and losers). There are many more, of varying cost, speed, and sophistication.

I would expect any competent civil engineer to be well aware of all this. Unfortunately, it has become known that political access to public funds is much easier if you can attach a 'climate change adaptation' tag to your project, so of course everyone building flood defenses nowadays does exactly that. Hence nobody wants to explain to the public what's really going on, and the deception continues.

So, if somebody knows all that, should they be 'concerned' about climate change? What's the 'right answer' here?

November 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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