Nature India | Indigenus

Climate perceptions

OK, so who do you trust most when it comes to news about climate change? Scientists, media, environment organisations, the government, religious leaders or your own family and friends?


Looks like Indians make a clear choice in the matter, and a very scientific one at that — 73% of the 4031 Indians surveyed in a Yale University project have reposed their trust on scientists. The study called the ‘Yale project on climate change communication’ investigated the state of awareness of Indians, their beliefs, attitudes, policy support, and behaviors vis-a-vis climate change. It also studied public observations of changes in local weather and climate patterns and people’s sense of vulnerability to extreme weather events. The survey has an urban bias though, with three quarters of the respondents from cities and the rest from villages.

Coming back to the trust factor — followed by scientists, the survey found that news media (69%), environmental organizations (68%), family and friends (67%); governments and religious leaders (about 50%) were the ones chosen by people to believe climate change related information.

There are strong messages for climate change communicators and policy makers in this representative survey — for instance, 80% of those surveyed watch or listen to serial dramas on radio or television. This was followed (nowhere closely) by hearing/watching news on sports, movie stars, world affairs, local politics, environmental issues, national politics, local weather forecast and business and financial news. So that, sort of, makes a case for where to plug your climate change messages.

Recently, a course correction evaluation of India’s national climate change policies found inconsistencies in what the government wants to do and what it can achieve through its various missions. About 41% of respondents in the Yale project felt the government of India should be doing more to address global warming. Some (38%) also thought India should reduce its own emissions of the gases that cause global warming immediately, without waiting for other countries.

A lot of interpretation is made by climate change policy makers based on local knowledge. Scientists are often pointed to incidents of regional climate change through local people. Local perceptions are considered an important link in the debate on ‘whether it is happening or not’. In the Yale survey, a whopping 80% people said that the amount of rainfall in their local area had changed in the past 10 years – it had either decreased (46%) or increased (34%). More than half the people said that hot days in their local areas were more in number, 21% said that severe storms and droughts had become more frequent and 15% said so had floods. 38% said the monsoon has become more unpredictable in their local area compared to the past. These are significant pointers, both for scientists studying the phenomena and mitigation and adaptation organisations.

What is triggering climate change? More than half the people surveyed thought it is caused mostly by human activities, while 31 percent said it is caused by natural changes in the environment. Again, half the respondents said they had already personally experienced the effects of global warming, while 43 percent said that global warming is already harming or will harm people in India within the next 10 years.

Along with the review of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, this survey make for some interesting background material for the powers that direct policy in this country.


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