Members of the Canadian general public with social ties to members of environmental organizations are more likely to have a plan of action to help tackle climate change, reports a paper published this week in Nature Climate Change. The findings emphasize the role of social context in shaping risk perception.
Analysis has shown that the positions of individuals within networks of social and cultural relations can be used to help predict beliefs and attitudes regarding a range of issues. David Tindall and Georgia Piggot assessed the influence of environmental organizations on peoples’ climate change beliefs and willingness to act using data from two surveys carried out in Canada in 2007. The first survey involved responses to questionnaires sent to 1,227 randomly selected members of environmental nongovernmental organizations. In a separate survey, 1,007 members of the Canadian general public were interviewed by telephone about their climate change beliefs and attitudes.
The authors found that individuals with a greater number of ties to environmental organization members were more likely to have plans to mitigate their impact on the environment - such as buying a more fuel-efficient car, recycling, and improving home insulation - than those with fewer or no such ties. Participants’ level of concern about climate change was not associated with the number of these organizations in their social networks.
The new findings show that environmental organizations can shape public opinion through informal interpersonal interaction with individuals not directly involved in the environmental movement, such as friends, neighbours, and colleagues.