How companies and weather may sway public opinion on climate

One challenge U.S. companies face in dealing with global issues is the significant difference that sometimes exists between public opinion in America and in the rest of the world.

Nowhere has the difference in perspective and opinion been more evident than in concern over climate change.

For much of the decade between 1995 to 2005, Americans were significantly less concerned about climate change than Europeans and indeed much of the rest of the world. Hurricane Katrina, however, catapulted American concern to near-European levels, with the percentage of Americans expressing "serious concern" jumping 20 points (see chart below).

Since Katrina, U.S. climate concerns have languished along with the rest of the industrialized world. In fact, much to the surprise of many observers (including our clients), climate concerns in China and other emerging economies have overtaken those in G7 countries, often due to violent weather in those countries publicly attributed to climate change. In our 2009 global Radar survey, 57 percent of Chinese citizens were very concerned about climate, compared to 45 percent of Americans.

But what about Superstorm Sandy last October? Has it had a similar effect on American opinion? To find out, GlobeScan surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 Americans by telephone in March. We're pleased to release our results for the first time here at GreenBiz.

As the following chart shows, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, Superstorm Sandy seems to have again increased the perceived seriousness of climate change in American minds, bringing U.S. opinion closer to the global average. But it doesn't appear to have had as much effect as Hurricane Katrina did, and the convergence of U.S. and global opinion has more to do with global concern dropping significantly since the failed Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009.

Public opinion on climate change

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