American Risk Perceptions: Is Climate Change Dangerous?

Public risk perceptions can fundamentally compel or constrain political, economic, and social action to address particular risks. Public support or opposition to climate policies (e.g., treaties, regulations, taxes, subsidies) will be greatly influenced by public perceptions of the risks and dangers posed by global climate change.

This article describes results from a national study (2003) that examined the risk perceptions and connotative meanings of global warming in the American mind and found that Americans perceived climate change as a moderate risk that will predominantly impact geographically and temporally distant people and places. This research also identified several distinct interpretive communities, including naysayers and alarmists, with widely divergent perceptions of climate change risks. Thus, “dangerous” climate change is a concept contested not only among scientists and policymakers, but among the American public as well.