The goal of our three and a half week bike trip across Eastern Europe was not the same as my previous “Ride for Climate” adventures. We weren’t trying to raise awareness of climate change, or investigate as thoroughly the impacts of climate change on the places we visited. (If anything, our tour was much more about the recent atrocities in human history, as we visited Auschwitz and also crossed Bosnia and Herzegovina.)
Nonetheless, I asked the people we met, as we traveled, what they thought of climate change. Of course, because we didn’t speak any of the local languages (this is the first tour where that is the case–it can make the tour much more challenging), I was only able to have meaningful, somewhat in-depth conversations with about 12 different people. Many of these people were the ones who were hosting hosting us.
What we found: About two of the 12 argued that scientists are still arguing amongst themselves, and that climate change is most likely a natural cycle, which few scientists actually believe. (One of our hosts argued that volcanos emit more carbon dioxide than humanity, which is not true either). The others were roughly split between saying “it’s a problem and people here are worried about it” or saying “it’s a problem, but no one here knows anything about it.” Nearly everyone, though immediately switched the topic to other environmental topics (such as recycling or clean water), and then moved on to say that people there are more worried about the economy. (Interestingly, more than one person complained of green policies that didn’t quite work, such as expensive solar planels (which were everywhere in Slovakia) or green rebates that didn’t quite work.)
This unprompted pivot — starting to talk about the economy when I had asked about climate change — shows that Eastern Europeans, like Americans, appear to be wired to believe that fighting climate change will require major economic pain, or at least more pain then they were willing to endure.
I also asked people if they knew what the impacts of climate change would be, or if they had heard other people talk about what the impacts would be. This was quite reveling. Only two people were able to give any example. One said that they would have to grow more southern crops, and farmers would have to adapt. The other gave a much frightening answer: Hungary would become like a desert.
Of course people aren’t going to be afraid of climate change if they don’t think it will affect them, or if they don’t have exmaples, and climate change remains just an abstract concept.
I think that is one reason that it has become so polarized politically — people don’t have concrete examples (that the believe) of how climate change will actually affect them, or how it has already affected them. So if it’s just theoretical, they respond with theories based on their values and ideology.
More in the next post on what climate change actually means for Eastern Europe.
Gallup has performed a survey in the entire world, asking what people think about climate change. You can see the results from this survey (which covers much, much more than just climate change) at worldview.gallup.com (you might have to create a login). Here are some questions and the answers for these countries:
Question: “How much do you know about global warming or climate change?” Below shows the percent of people who have never heard of it. From the countries we visited (and the USA):
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 11 %
Question: (asked of people who said that they had heard of climate change) “Temperature rise is a part of climate change or global warming. Do you think rising temperatures is a result of human activity?” Percent saying that it is a result of human activity:
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 61%
Question: (asked only of people who said they knew something about climate change) “How serious of a threat is global warming to you and your family?” Percent saying “Very Serious”:
Other countries we biked in: not asked / not enough respondents.