90% of Italians are convinced that the earth climate is warming up because summers are more and more hot and winters are less and less cold. Italian public opinion is not much affected neither by scientific evidence nor by environmentalist campaigns. Citizens give prominence to natural observation and direct experience of seasons changing.
These and other findings were presented at the VI International Conference on Ethics and Environmental Policies, devoted to “Ethics and climate change. Scenarios for Justice and Sustainability ” (Padova, October 23-25, 2008), an opportunity to reflect and discuss on global warming issues.
In recent years, terms like greenhouse effect, global warming, ozone hole have become familiar to the Italian public opinion.
According to one of the latest issues of the Observa’s Science in Society Monitor, 90% of Italians are convinced that the earth climate is warming up, and over one fifth of Italians consider climate change as the most relevant problem at global level, second to the Third world poverty only and well before other potential sources of worry, such as religious conflicts or economic crisis.
Such attitudes appear coherent with citizens choices about priority investments in science. Researches on the environment and climate pick up 60% of preferences all together: 46% of Italians would primarily invest in renewable energies research, while 16% would prioritise climate change.
In this perspective, an interesting question can be raised concerning the factors and dimensions leading to acknowledge climate change. Are people becoming aware of global warming thanks to scientific data and information? The Science in Society Monitor seems to provide a negative answer.
Citizens’ perception of climate change does not rely much neither on the evidence brought about by experts and scientific documents (17%), nor on Italian environmentalists’ communication campaigns (13%). Two Italians out of three base their impression that climate is warming on their personal observation that summers are more and more hot and winters are less and less cold.
Interesting considerations can be based on such findings. Although scientific debates on environmental issues are wide and rich, climate seems to be still considered an issue related to practical experience, upon which personal and direct perception appears more reliable than scientific evidences. This mainly happens with citizens who lack of a variety of scientific skills and abilities. According to the survey, practical knowledge of global warming achieved through experience is more common among people showing low levels of education and scientific literacy (70% in comparison with 48% of respondents with a university degree). On the other hand, respondents who own a high education degree and have a sound knowledge in science more frequently tend to ground their opinions on scientific evidences. For this reason well educated seem to be more uncertain and skeptic on climate change than other citizens. they probably give more prominence to disagreements between scientists and scientific evidences, revealed by mass media than to practical experience.
In this framework, the role of scientific expertise appears to be critical. Scientific experts and environmentalists find it difficult to shape the public agenda on issues which requires collective decisions. A wide reflection on the scope of their interventions and strategies is highly desirable, in order both to identify strong points and elements upon which build their authority and to promote innovative and organized communicative actions. According to the Science in Society Monitor, scientists are the most trustful and reliable actors, when it comes to science and technology issues.
Another evidence that a certain awareness on climate issues among Italians does exist and needs to be enhanced refers to the knowledge of current policies in climate field. Almost one Italian out of two is able to properly define the Kyoto Protocol as an international convention for reducing the collective emissions of key greenhouse gases.
Level of education, in this case as well as in the previous ones, tends to significantly affect the knowledge degree. Among well educated Italians, over 80% has a clear idea of Kyoto’s meaning, compared to the 37% of people with a low educational degree. Besides, it has to be noted that a proper knowledge of Kyoto protocol is linked to a strong perception of the role of scientific data in defining the nature and the scope of climate change.
On the other hand, the high percentage of Italians who are not aware about the existence of international policies and agreements concerning pollution and gas emissions is not necessarily an evidence of disengagement and indifference toward this issue. Italians appear to be more and more worried about their local environment and they state to be prepared to support strategies and actions useful for dealing with pollution, such as traffic reduction measures or investments in alternative energy sources.
Excerpt from Arzenton and Bucchi, “Italians and Science. The first report on science, technology and public opinion in Italy”, in Observa, Science in Society Facts and Figures 2008, Ergon Edizioni 2008.