By: Laura Baquerizo
DAVIS, CA – A study conducted by Dr. Francis Moore in the Environmental Science & Policy Department at UC Davis published in Nature revealed that public perception of climate change will determine global climates throughout the rest of the 21st century. The study found that public opinion influences global climates when coupled with socio-political factors such as changing costs of climate mitigation technologies and varied political institutions’ response to public pressures.
Through the use of a highly integrated multidisciplinary model, the results of the study produced over 100,000 possible future pathways of climate policy by amassing large sums of social, political, and technical data.
Despite the difficulties associated with accurately predicting future emissions, the study narrowed down the 100,000 pathways into several clusters of possible climate-warming scenarios. The results indicated that climate temperatures in 2100 will be an estimated 1.8 to 3.6 Celsius degrees higher than the temperature averages of the 19th century.
As a result of funding from the National Science Foundation and research support provided by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, the study explained the collective need to limit global impacts to climate change through sizable improvements to mitigation technologies with an emphasis on the positive impacts of public pressures which consequently produce reformative legislative action. “Understanding the potential for nonlinear dynamics in the socio-technical systems producing both greenhouse gasses and climate policy is essential for identifying high-impact intervention points and better informing policy,” the study says.
Based on the results of the study’s threefold model, which analyzes the global feedback processes of environmental, social, and legislation action, the window in which the ability to reverse the effects of climate change is growing increasingly smaller.
As anthropogenic influence continues to alter global temperatures, the study aims to emphasize the need for public opinion to be swayed in support of mitigation policies in the face of increasing climate anomalies and unusual weather patterns. “A large number of studies have connected stated belief in global warming with local temperature anomalies: people appear to be able to identify local warming and are more likely to report believing in climate change if the weather is (or is perceived to be) unusually warm,” the study explains.
In regards to the study’s investigation into social facets which can determine the course of climate change pathways, the authors reported that the average individual’s actions and opinions are most commonly in alignment with the social views of their immediate community. Community constituents who choose to engage in pro-climate practices such as the limiting of energy use and the burning of fossil fuels, frequently act as a result of a shared social norm. Norms such as these dictate a majority public opinion which both supports and acknowledges the need for legislative reform in relation to climate change policy. Through collective action, a positive feedback effect holds the ability to bolster political action in favor of positive change.
In spite of the study’s alarming data portrait of possible climate pathways which indicate a detrimental rise in climate temperatures, there has been a deviation from expectations due to COVID-19. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, diminished transportation use and energy consumption have slightly tipped the scales of anthropogenic environmental impact in favor of stabilization.
According to Dr. Moore, “understanding how societies respond to environmental change, and policy arises from social and political systems, is a key question in sustainability science.” Moore further stated “I see this [study] as pushing that research, and also being useful for climate adaptation and impact planning.”