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Keywords:

  • Global warming and climate change;
  • information efficacy;
  • risk perceptions

Despite the growing scientific consensus about the risks of global warming and climate change, the mass media frequently portray the subject as one of great scientific controversy and debate. And yet previous studies of the mass public's subjective assessments of the risks of global warming and climate change have not sufficiently examined public informedness, public confidence in climate scientists, and the role of personal efficacy in affecting global warming outcomes. By examining the results of a survey on an original and representative sample of Americans, we find that these three forces—informedness, confidence in scientists, and personal efficacy—are related in interesting and unexpected ways, and exert significant influence on risk assessments of global warming and climate change. In particular, more informed respondents both feel less personally responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming. We also find that confidence in scientists has unexpected effects: respondents with high confidence in scientists feel less responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming. These results have substantial implications for the interaction between scientists and the public in general, and for the public discussion of global warming and climate change in particular.