© 2023 KUNR
Celebrating 60 years in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KUNR Public Radio is a proud partner in the Mountain West News Bureau, a partnership of public media stations that serve Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming. The mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues of the Mountain West.

Mountain Westerners’ climate change concerns greater than we think

A drawing of two people looking into a mirror. The taller of the two is wearing a shirt supporting the “Green New Deal,” whereas the shorter person is wearing a shirt that opposes it. Their reflections in the mirror are distorted, and their heights appear opposite of each other.
Courtesy Danielle Goldwert via Twitter
Roughly 80% to 90% of Americans underestimate the level of support for climate policies like the Green New Deal to some degree, according to a recent study by Nature Communications.

New research shows that most people are concerned about climate change, but they mistakenly think others are not.

The study, published in the scientific journalNature Communications, found that residents in several states have high levels of what’s known as “pluralistic ignorance” – a shared misperception of how others think or behave.

In the Mountain West, this misperception is greatest in Wyoming, where residents underestimate climate concern among fellow Wyomingites by 24.4%. Not far behind are Arizona (22.9%), Idaho (22.8%), Utah (21.8%), Nevada (21.7%) and Montana (21.6%).

Meanwhile, New Mexico and Colorado have the region’s lowest levels of misperception at 15.2% and 17.7%, respectively.

Anthony Leiserowitz, who leads Yale University’s program on climate change communication, says underestimating climate concerns in our communities is slowing political action on the issue.

“If you believe that less than half of your constituents believe that climate change is real or a serious problem or want you to take action, then there’s obviously not a big motivation by those political leaders to take action,” Leiserowitz said.

Overall, the study found that 80% to 90% of Americans underestimate public support for climate policies to some degree. That’s a level of pluralistic ignorance the study’s authors call a “false social reality,” or “a near universal perception of public opinion that is the opposite of true public sentiment.”

Gregg Sparkman, an assistant professor in psychology at Boston College and the lead author of the study, was interviewed recently by Boise State Public Radio host George Prentice.

“It’s not like some of the population is a little off, but other folks aren’t here,” Sparkman said of Americans’ underestimation of public concern about climate change. “Everyone is, whether it be liberals or conservatives, people who don’t have a GED, people who went all the way and got their Ph.D. You name it, everybody. People in the rural areas, people in suburbs. Everyone here is incorrect.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
Related Content