Climate Change
Rich 'bad-boy' countries are
the least worried about climate change

By Lisa Olstad (*)


Commentary from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

The wealthier a country is, and the larger its CO2 emissions, the less worried its citizens are about global warming.

Norway is one of the world’s richest countries – and the fifth worst in Europe for CO2 emissions in relation to its population. At the same time, Norwegians are amongst the least worried about the consequences of climate change.

It’s the same across the globe: the level of concern in a country’s population is precisely correlated with two things: that country’s gross national project (GNP) and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The more a country has of both, the less worried its population is about the consequences of global warming, according to a global study conducted by Hanno Sandvik, a postdoc at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.

Dutch are least worried

Sandvik used the results from an electronic survey that was conducted in 46 countries as the basis for his work. The survey encompassed countries from every inhabited continent and with different economies – aside from poor developing lands where an internet-based survey wouldn’t work.

The survey showed that the world’s least climate-worried population lives in the country that will be the first to notice that sea level is rising – the Netherlands. Next in line were Russia, the USA, Latvia and Estonia. In Western Europe, the carefree Dutch were followed by the similarly unworried Danes, Belgians, Norwegians and Finns.

Most of these people have access to all the information they could possibly want – and then some. Why the lack of concern about climate change?

Other researchers have looked for explanatory reasons and variables that are inherent in the country itself: gender, age, education level, family income, political views and so forth. Sandvik is the first who has looked for explanations at the national level.

Repressed responsibility

“People are all too willing to repress unpleasant truths, particularly if one is responsible for something that’s not good. I had a theory that the countries that contribute the most to global warming might perhaps have a population that would rather not believe so much in the dangers from climate change,” Sandvik says.

When Sandvik compared data on level of concern to data on emissions, he found support for his theory: the more responsibility a country had for causing global warming, the greater the tendency of its citizens to explain away or ignore the problem. And as a country’s emissions levels increased, the level of concern sank even further.

The biggest emissions bad boys in the world, by population, are the United Arab Emirates, the USA, Canada, Australia and Estonia. In Western Europe, Finland is the worst, followed by Ireland, Denmark, Belgium and Norway. All of these countries scored conspicuously high when it came to lack of concern.

The rich would rather not share

The most striking connection came when Sandvik compared the level of worry data to the GNP for the 46 countries: the richer the land, the less worried its population.The five richest countries in the dataset were Norway, the United States, Ireland, Denmark and Canada. All of these countries are also considered to be among the worst in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. That consequently doubles the fertile ground for the lack of worry. Researchers were not particularly surprised by the findings. All “idealism research” shows that those who are most well off are always the least willing to contribute.

“If you take global warming to heart, you understand that you have to sacrifice something. And the richer you are, the less willing you are to sacrifice. It’s far more pleasant to decide that you actually don’t quite believe in the climate threat,” Sandvik says.

The study is being published in the journal
Climatic Change.


(*) Lisa Olstad writes about science for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Hanno Sandvik's paper will be available here following publication.

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