Title page for ETD etd-05312012-230503

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Shao, Wanyun
URN etd-05312012-230503
Title Understanding Public Perceptions of Global Warming
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Geography & Anthropology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Garand, James Committee Co-Chair
Keim, Barry Committee Co-Chair
Hamilton, Lawrence Committee Member
Wang, Fahui Committee Member
  • environmentally significant behaviors
  • global warming
  • public perception
Date of Defense 2012-05-17
Availability unrestricted
In this dissertation, I investigate the determinants on Americans’ perceptions of global warming and individuals’ environmentally significant behaviors to reduce global warming. Specially, I examine how contextual variables, primarily represented by local weather and climate, attitudinal variables, and socio-demographic characteristics affect public opinion towards global warming, personal voluntary actions and willingness to address global warming.

The research of this dissertation reveals some important findings. First, local weather and climate—represented by long-term temperature trends—is found to have significant effects on public perceptions of global warming and private-sector environmentally significant behaviors. In particular, the summer temperature trend over the past 10 years has consistently shown to have positive effects on public acceptance of anthropogenic global warming and concern for global warming. In other words, individuals are most sensitive to summer temperature and more likely to translate increasingly hot summers into perceptions of anthropogenic global warming and their concern for this issue. Second, consistent with the results of previous studies, global warming has become a politically polarized issue. Specifically, Democrats and political liberals are more likely than Republicans and political conservatives to accept the notion of anthropogenic global warming, show higher level of concern for global warming, and participate in private-sector environmentally significant behaviors to reduce global warming. Third, attitudinal variables play an important role in affecting public perceptions of global warming and individuals’ environmentally significant behaviors. For instance, personal attitudes toward scientists are found to be a strong group of predictors on public opinion toward global warming. In addition, attitudinal variables—including individuals’ environmental views and perceptions of global warming—outperform socio-demographic characteristics and contextual forces in explaining the variance of personal actions and public willingness to pay more to reduce global warming. Finally, objective macro-economic conditions, represented by county-level unemployment rate in this dissertation are not found to have any consistently significant effect on either public perceptions of global warming or individuals’ environmentally significant behaviors.

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