Pioneering survey reveals how Brazilians think about climate change
An FGV survey shows how Brazilians think about climate change. Among other results, it was found that in Brazilian society there is a strong consensus view that climate change is real and caused by humans. However, the population is polarized when it comes to belief in the severity of the climate crisis: almost half of those interviewed expressed skepticism about this (44%). These people doubt that climate change will have an intense negative effect on their lives.
The survey’s authors – Matias Spektor, professor at the FGV School of International Relations; Guilherme Fasolin, doctoral student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and research associate at the FGV School of International Relations; and Juliana Camargo, associate professor at the FGV School of International Relations – present their main conclusions about Brazil below:
- The factor that most determines people’s support for the three beliefs is scientific consensus. The perception that scientists have a shared diagnosis of climate change is the thing that most influences the public’s beliefs.
- The main contributor to disbelief in climate change (climate skepticism) is citizens’ degree of individualism. The more individualistic Brazilians are, the more disbelieving they are. Individualism is a psychological profile marked by the search for personal autonomy and distrust of collective solutions to social problems.
- The survey also found that climate skepticism occurs on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. This differs from the United States and Europe, where disbelief is concentrated among right-wing citizens.
- Skepticism about the severity of the climate crisis is more widespread in Brazil than in neighboring countries such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru.
Survey’s implications for Brazil
The survey has implications for the public authorities, private sector agents and organized civil society activists, because these three beliefs largely define citizens’ political behavior.
- Although the absolute majority of Brazilians believe that climate change exists and is caused by humans, there is no consensus on the severity of its effects. This, in turn, opens up ample space in Brazilian public opinion for denialism.
- Climate denialism in Brazil has fertile ground not only on the right of the political spectrum, but also on the left. However, one positive result of the survey is that both right-wing and left-wing citizens may support policies aimed at tackling climate change, which is not the case in other countries around the world.
- The easiest targets for climate denialism are the most individualistic citizens, i.e., those who are skeptical of collective solutions to social problems, suspect that the state will not solve their problems and tend to rely only on themselves. This is worrying in a society with low levels of interpersonal trust and confidence in public institutions.
- In order to communicate pro-climate change messages to the most skeptical citizens, it is necessary to highlight the role of markets and the private sector in finding solutions to the climate crisis. For this message to be credible, it is also necessary to give voice to pro-climate change sources of information that have moral authority with this segment of the population, such as business people, farmers and financial market institutions.
The survey was carried out in seven countries responsible for 80% of Latin America’s CO2 emissions (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru). The sample included 5,038 respondents from nationally diverse samples.