Risk Analysis

Public Perception of Uncertainties Within Climate Change Science

Journal Article


Climate change is a complex, multifaceted problem involving various interacting systems and actors. Therefore, the intensities, locations, and timeframes of the consequences of climate change are hard to predict and cause uncertainties. Relatively little is known about how the public perceives this scientific uncertainty and how this relates to their concern about climate change. In this article, an online survey among 306 Swiss people is reported that investigated whether people differentiate between different types of uncertainty in climate change research. Also examined was the way in which the perception of uncertainty is related to people's concern about climate change, their trust in science, their knowledge about climate change, and their political attitude. The results of a principal component analysis showed that respondents differentiated between perceived ambiguity in climate research, measurement uncertainty, and uncertainty about the future impact of climate change. Using structural equation modeling, it was found that only perceived ambiguity was directly related to concern about climate change, whereas measurement uncertainty and future uncertainty were not. Trust in climate science was strongly associated with each type of uncertainty perception and was indirectly associated with concern about climate change. Also, more knowledge about climate change was related to less strong perceptions of each type of climate science uncertainty. Hence, it is suggested that to increase public concern about climate change, it may be especially important to consider the perceived ambiguity about climate research. Efforts that foster trust in climate science also appear highly worthwhile.

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