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Study: Most folks underestimate support for climate mitigation policies

Group of people with posters protesting against climate change outdoors
Olga Yastremska, New Africa, Afr/New Africa - stock.adobe.com
Group of people with posters protesting against climate change outdoors

The political divide over climate change seems well entrenched, but a recent study suggests the conventional wisdom is wrong.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, showed support for policies to curb climate change is much higher than most people believe. An average Michigan resident, for example, might guess support for climate action is around 43%, but researchers say the actual support level is between 66% and 80%.

Barry Lyons, an anthropologist at Wayne State University, said he is not surprised by the disconnect.

"It's not surprising to me because I have long believed -- that especially," Lyons said. "Let's say, in conservative communities, there is a lot of sort of hidden, or socially suppressed or closeted, climate concern."

The study uses the term "pluralistic ignorance" to describe a shared misperception of how others think or behave, which may create a "false social reality," an impediment to collective action, according to Lyons.

Researchers found in every state and every demographic studied, Americans underestimate support among all the policies they tested. Study co-author Gregg Sparkman of Boston College said people tend to conform to what they think others believe, rather than initiating conversations which might be uncomfortable.

"By not talking about it, we kind-of confirm to the people who are looking at us that people don't seem to be concerned; and then, the cycle kind-of continues, where I don't think others are concerned," Sparkman said. "And because no one talks about it, then you get what's called a 'spiral of silence.' "

The actions studied are policies which could mitigate climate change, including a carbon tax, putting renewable-energy projects on public lands and the so-called "Green New Deal." The research indicates supporters of climate action outnumber opponents two-to-one, but Americans falsely perceive nearly the opposite to be true.

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