- Though the UN’s climate change conference is the center of attention this week, climate literacy seems to be worryingly low in Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the US: Just 14.2% of respondents in our survey prove to be truly climate literate. In October, we decided to survey a representative sample of 1,000 people in each of the five countries about their knowledge of the climate, climate policies and climate actions. While the results in the four European countries are quite similar, the US stands out with the proportion of those with low climate literacy (i.e. answering three or fewer questions correctly) almost twice as high as in Europe (56.3%). Only 4.9% of American respondents can be considered highly climate literate (answering seven out of 10 questions correctly). Moreover, we find that “the older, the wiser” does seem to apply to climate literacy overall: The proportion of respondents with a high level of climate literacy is highest among Boomers at 16.3%; Gen-Z only achieves 11.5%.
- Actions speak louder than words: Those with high climate literacy are more than three times as likely to be actively making an effort to reduce their carbon footprints. The likelihood of doing nothing drops to almost zero if respondents have at least average climate literacy. In contrast, among respondents with only low climate literacy, the share is 13.4%. We also find that it is primarily respondents from older generations who are actively combating climate change by making efforts to reduce their carbon footprints. More Gen-Z respondents say they do not actively engage in actions to tackle climate change (8.2% vs. 5.5% for Boomers).
- Overall, most respondents seem to still live in climate Neverland, massively underestimating the extent of the measures needed and, above all, the speed with which they must be implemented. Two-thirds of respondents are aware that a temperature increase of two degrees or more would have catastrophic consequences for nature and people. However, only slightly more than half are aware that harmful greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced substantially if such an outcome is to be prevented. And only a meagre 12.2% are aware of the enormous time pressure that climate policy is under: this is the share of respondents that understand that we can carry on as we are for only another eight years before the world reaches its climatic limits.
- What does this mean for policymakers? There are three dimensions to spread the climate gospel: engagement for the learner, excellence in material and equity for all. Promoting climate literacy, is creating hope for a world where citizens understand the issues we are facing and are actively involved in reshaping the future of our societies and economies. If we strive to build back better, we should build back literate.