Just 10 Minutes Learning Climate Change Science Increases Support for Change

Public support for action on climate change is strengthened by just ten minutes of exposure to the basic science, an experiment conducted by the ESRI reveals. The findings extend to policies that cost households money, including raising the carbon tax.   

In the study, a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults undertook a short online climate quiz. The multiple-choice quiz covered the basic causes of climate change, its impacts and how behaviours affect it. Half the sample (selected at random) were shown the correct answers, while the other half were not. Subsequently, those who saw the answers stated higher support for change.

After seeing the answers to the ten-minute quiz, the number of people who believed a carbon tax would be effective at changing behaviour went up by 25 per cent. In this group, almost twice as many wanted the carbon tax increased as wanted to see it decreased.

Seeing the answers also boosted people’s intentions to engage in high-impact pro-environmental actions, such as taking fewer flights, retrofitting their home or reducing meat intake. However, this effect was smaller than the effect on support for stronger climate mitigation policy. 

By using the randomised experiment, the researchers can be sure that the effects were caused by reading the scientific answers and not other factors, such as simply being asked to think about the climate issue or to answer questions about it. 

The study is also the first to measure public comprehension of climate change in Ireland. It found that while some basic knowledge is good, gaps remain:

  • 90 per cent of people are aware that climate change is caused by human activity – high by international standards
  • Climate change ranks as the third most important issue facing people in Ireland, after housing and healthcare
  • Most people can identify forms of energy generation and transport that produce emissions
  • The impact of buying local and organic food on reducing emissions is overestimated by most people (74 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively) while 66 per cent underestimate the impact of switching to a plant-based diet
  • Half the population underestimate Ireland’s per person emissions compared to the rest of the EU
  • One-in-three are not aware that the agriculture sector is a primary contributor of emissions, with little difference between those living in urban and rural areas  

“It’s striking how many people changed their mind on the carbon tax when learning about the science of climate change for just ten minutes,” said Dr Shane Timmons of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit. “While acceptance of human-caused climate change is high, there are some gaps in knowledge and people were clearly affected by the information. They became more supportive of stronger climate policy and more willing to engage in high-impact behaviours.”