Global Trends 2020

Principles of uncertainty – the public and environmental scientists

Scientists tend to enjoy high levels of public trust, but on the environment, the global public is finely split – 47% agree that “even the scientists don’t really know what they are talking about on environmental issues”, and 44% disagree. This is unchanged from 2014, and comes despite a global near-consensus20 amongst scientists that temperatures are rising, and that human activity is a major cause.

Despite greater faith in scientific progress more generally, the fact that trust in scientists to know what’s going on in the environment is lukewarm at best should be worrying – especially as scepticism of these scientists is wider in emerging markets such as India (61%) and Indonesia (56%) where populations are at greater risk from the effects of climate change.

The strongest support for scientists comes from those with a university-level education; 47% with a ‘high’ level of education disagree scientists are fundamentally ignorant, compared to 38% of those with the fewest educational qualifications. This is hardly a ringing endorsement. The fact that there is a perception of a muddled message on the environment, even amongst the university-educated, presents a stern challenge to those tasked with communicating the risks of an ever more unpredictable global climate.

Michael Clemence
Research Manager, Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute
michael.clemence@ipsos.com | @IpsosMORI

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