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COVID-19 pandemic: did climate-related concerns decrease among the population?

Climate change issues were on top of the public debate these last years before COVID-19 arrived. In 2019, 170 climate strikes were organized in Switzerland which demonstrated a growing conscience and worry about the threat. It has been almost a year since the coronavirus pandemic started and consequently put environmental issues in the background at least in the media. The “finite pool of worry” hypothesis states that humans have a finite emotional resource for worry (Sisco et al., 2020), so that when a concern rises, another one may diminish. Like this, the pandemic would reduce climate change (and other) concerns as COVID-19-related worries would rise. 

Did the pandemic truly affect the concerns about climate change among the population?  A study in the UK showed that the participants perceived COVID-19 less threatening than climate change and thus revealed no evidence for diminishing climate change concerns during the pandemic (Evensen et al., 2020). 

As exposure to information is closely tied to worry about it, another study extended its analysis of the effects of COVID-19 on both worry and attention about climate change and other threats related to it (Sisco et al., 2020). Sisco and colleagues (2020) found that attention to climate change decreased as attention to COVID-19 increased. However, they also found that a higher COVID-19 worry is associated with a higher worry about climate change (Sisco et al., 2020). In other words, worrying about a new threat (COVID-19) can increase concerns about preexisting threats (climate change) which is contrary to the finite pool of worry hypothesis (Sisco et al., 2020). Additionally, they found that political ideology moderates the positive association between COVID-19 concern and climate policy support and that this relationship is the strongest for conservatives (Sisco et al., 2020).  As conservatives are usually less worried about climate change, the pandemic could help diminish the partisan divide in attitudes toward climate change and environmental policies. 

Bibliography :
  • Evensen, D., Whitmarsh, L., Bartie, P., Devine-Wright, P., Dickie, J., Varley, A., Ryder, S. & Mayer, A. (2021). Effect of “finite pool of worry” and COVID-19 on UK climate change perceptions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(3). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2018936118 
  • Sisco, M.R., Constantino, S.M., Gao, Y., Tavoni, M., Cooperman, A.D., Bosetti, V. & Weber, E.U (2020). A finite Pool of Worry or a Finite Pool of Attention? Evidence and Qualifications.  DOI : 10.21203/rs.3.rs-98481/v1
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Author : Johanna Henry