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Keywords:

  • Climate change;
  • global warming;
  • risk communication;
  • public understanding

Drawing on results from earlier studies that used open-ended interviews, a questionnaire was developed to examine laypeople's knowledge about the possible causes and effects of global warming, as well as the likely efficacy of possible interventions. It was administered to two well-educated opportunity samples of laypeople. Subjects had a poor appreciation of the facts that (1) if significant global warming occurs, it will be primarily the result of an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere, and (2) the single most important source of additional carbon dioxide is the combustion of fossil fuels, most notably coal and oil. In addition, their understanding of the climate issue was encumbered with secondary, irrelevant, and incorrect beliefs. Of these, the two most critical are confusion with the problems of stratospheric ozone and difficulty in differentiating between causes and actions specific to climate and more general good environmental practice.