Public Understanding of Climate Change as a Social Dilemma
2. Qualitative Data and Analytic Approach
|Dataset year||No. participants||Principal researcher; illustrative publications||Study overview|
|1997||14||Eric Darier; Darier et al. (1999)||EU-wide project into public understanding of climate change and wider environmental issues|
|2000||19||Irene Lorenzoni; Lorenzoni and Hulme (2009)||Doctoral research into cross-cultural perceptions of climate change|
|2002||24||Karen Bickerstaff; Bickerstaff et al. (2008)||UK project examining risk perceptions, including of climate change|
|2003||20||Lorraine Whitmarsh; Whitmarsh (2009)||Doctoral research into UK climate change perceptions|
|2007||84||Nick Pidgeon; Butler and Pidgeon (2009)||UK project examining perceptions of climate change and energy issues|
|2010||47||Stuart Capstick; Capstick (2012)||Doctoral research into longitudinal component of climate change perceptions|
- its ontology—the basic entities whose existence is recognised or constructed
- assumptions about relationships—the nature of relationships between individuals and other social actors
- agents and their motives—the social actors about whom the discourse is concerned, and the reasons ascribed to their actions
- its key metaphors and rhetorical devices—the concepts and language which shape the discourse
3. Discourse Analysis Results
3.1. Summary Features
|Discourse feature||Manifestation within social dilemma discourse|
|Ontology (basic entities recognised)|
|Assumptions about relationships|
|Agents and their motives|
|Key metaphors and rhetorical devices|
I tend to get a bit of a pessimistic outlook on mankind… as far as being able to get together and make independent decisions for the benefit of everybody without self-interest coming into it… this is the big problem and probably one of the biggest problems for mankind. (P5-2000)It’s going to come down in the end to ordinary human beings either helping things, climate change… to all get working together… but I don’t know whether that’s possible. I’m not very optimistic really, because I think self-interest will take the place of a great many people, in their thoughts. You ask people: ‘would you be prepared to do all this sort of- for somebody else?’ And the answer… is probably ‘no’, in their minds. (P20-2010)
If you’re asking every country in the world, all the big powers to do something about it, if some countries or [regions] are not as badly affected, they’re not going to be as forthcoming are they [in contrast to] if everybody’s in the same boat.
P24-2002: Those that are in power and have got the money and all the rest of it will find a way of being above everybody else and they won’t bother too much about those that are getting drowned.P23-2002: If it got flooded they’d probably build a house on stilts or something, and it’s tough for the person down there who’s got nothing, they’ve still got their nice big house and everything… and [expletive] everyone else basically.
[T]he Russian countries… don’t seem to have restrictions on how much… fossil [fuels] they use. (P7-2002)China, they’re just pushing out more… India is doing its best as well [to pollute]… Argentina, Brazil, they’re cutting the forests down… (P66-2007)[D]eveloping countries… like India and China and places like that… say ‘well, why should we give a [expletive]?’ (P21-2003)
What’s the good of a little country like England… doing something to help the environment and then the whole of Europe or Russia or China… does something completely the opposite? ...it’s almost a waste of time. (P5-2000)It’s a world problem… and, you know, the top countries that are polluting the world can’t agree to actually do very much about it. So irrespective of what we might do on a very small island called Britain we’re not going to make a lot of difference. (P7-2002)If we do something and other countries don’t it’s pointless. Pointless. (P66-2007)I’m conscious there are many countries in the world who are probably larger contributors to the sources of global warming that… do nothing... [I]t makes me wonder, given the balance of population between the Western world and the wider world, whether in fact it’s just a drop in the ocean. (P16-2010)
The hardest part about it… you’ll always get a certain amount of people that just won’t be bothered at all like everything else… (P21-2002)I sometimes feel we’re wasting our time, because so many other people don’t do things… I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. (P7-2003)
I read last week, there was a family and they decided they were going to go completely green, they weren’t go to have a car, they weren't going to do this, they were going to do that… and I thought, more fool you. Because everyone else is, you know, what, what are you doing, you’re making your life harder, what are you achieving? I know you’re doing your little bit, but what are you really... what difference are you making?
3.2. Responding to Climate Change as a Social Dilemma
Moderator: So… the fact that the government isn’t taking more action… does that make you feel there’s no point in individuals, yourself, making an effort to cut down, or…?P17-2003: No, I would still do my part if I could, because that’s the only way I feel I can help… I suppose I’m thinking, yeah, it’s only a very small part, but if other people do it as well, it should make a difference. It certainly should. And if you can get people to do that worldwide, it would make a big difference.
I think if everybody did their bit… it could make the world a better place… if everyone did their own little bit towards helping the environment. (P14-2010)
P20-2010: We can’t do very much as individuals.P23-2010: Well, a voice is what we are and we can think with our own private lives and I do feel that if everybody does a bit, it’s a lot.
All we can do is do our bit and as we are one of the nations that per capita consumes an awful lot, it’s very necessary for us to do that. (P25-2010)
P17-2007: Do you think we honestly make any difference ourselves by burning low energy lamps and switching...?P13-2007: If everyone did it, yeah.P17-2007: And don’t leave your television set on standby at night?P13-2007: Yeah, if everyone did it.P17-2007: Do you think we make a difference to that?... When you see what… the United States and China are doing?P13-2007: It’d still make a difference wouldn’t it.P17-2007: We’re just fiddling about we are.P11-2007: Yeah, but if 60 million people in the UK start it, maybe it’ll become a trend. You know, somebody’s got to start it somewhere. If we can be the world leaders in energy efficiency, we can set an example, maybe other countries will say ‘Well, it works in the UK, maybe we can follow their lead’.P13-2007: Better than 60 million people not doing it.
P37-2010: I think business gets away with murder... We’ve all been forced to recycle with our councils [with] the wheelie bins for how long now? But... shouldn’t it be the same for everyone?P41-2010: But you can’t go “well why should I do it because they’re not doing it?” that argument... you should do it because you should do it, not because somebody else is doing it or not doing it. You should do it because it’s the right thing... You can’t blame everybody else, you’ve got to take personal responsibility and say: even if everyone else is still messing up, I, me, I know I’m doing my bit, and if everybody…P37-2010: But I can’t help who I am, and human nature dictates to me, I think: well why am I doing it and my firm that I work for isn’t even doing it?
4. Quantitative Data and Analytic Approach
- The actions of a single person don’t make any difference in tackling climate change.
- There is no point in me doing anything about climate change because no-one else is.
- Climate change is hard to address because there are so many people on the planet pulling in different directions.
- If each of us did our bit to help, we could put an end to the problems of climate change.
5. Survey Findings
|Strongly disagree 1||Disagree 2||Neither/nor 3||Agree 4||Strongly agree 5||Mean (SE, SD)||Don’t know/No opinion|
|The actions of a single person don’t make any difference in tackling climate change||12||29||28||20||10||2.87 (0.05, 1.17)||1|
|There is no point in me doing anything about climate change because no-one else is||21||34||30||9||4||2.39 (0.05, 1.05)||2|
|Climate change is hard to address because there are so many people on the planet pulling in different directions||1||3||18||51||27||4.01 (0.04, 0.79)||1|
|If each of us did our bit to help, we could put an end to the problems of climate change||8||16||33||32||9||3.18 (0.05, 1.07)||2|
7. Implications for Future Research and Public Engagement
Conflict of Interest
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Capstick, S.B. Public Understanding of Climate Change as a Social Dilemma. Sustainability 2013, 5, 3484-3501. https://doi.org/10.3390/su5083484
Capstick SB. Public Understanding of Climate Change as a Social Dilemma. Sustainability. 2013; 5(8):3484-3501. https://doi.org/10.3390/su5083484Chicago/Turabian Style
Capstick, Stuart Bryce. 2013. "Public Understanding of Climate Change as a Social Dilemma" Sustainability 5, no. 8: 3484-3501. https://doi.org/10.3390/su5083484