Most detailed studies of public opinion about climate change focus on industrialized countries, and the United States in particular. Given this bias, a recent study by the Yale Project on Climate Communication, titled “Climate Change in the Indian Mind“, offers a welcome correction by reporting results from a large survey of over 4,000 Indian recipients. While the study is not intended to be representative of the Indian public due to an oversampling of urban dwellers (75% in the study, 31% in actuality), the results are nonetheless interesting. I highlight here a few on the phenomenon itself:
- According to the study, 54% of the respondents said hot days had become more frequent in their area while only 23% said they had become less frequent;
- At the same time, 41% said they had never heard of global warming or did not know whether they had heard of it;
- When given a brief description of global warming, 72 percent believed it is real.
This evidence is not conclusive, but one possible interpretation is that Indians are already experiencing climate change without necessarily having the information needed to link the environmental changes to the underlying phenomenon. It would be quite interesting to see whether beliefs about local environmental change are associated with the actual temperature record in different areas of India.
Equally interesting are findings on support for climate and energy policy. Even though the Indian domestic audience has a reputation for being hostile to binding international agreements, there seems to be some support for domestic policy:
- 41% of the respondents want the Indian government to do more to address global warming;
- 54% said India should reduce global warming even at an economic cost;
- 51% believed that environmental protection either contributes to economic growth or has no effect on it.
These numbers raise many questions. Are Indians already experiencing clear local climatic changes in their everyday lives? How do Indians learn about global warming, and how could scientific awareness in the country be increased? Are people actually willing to pay for climate policy, or do they only say so? The Yale study offers an excellent point of departure for a research agenda on climate change beliefs in India.