William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review
Beliefs, Information, and Institutions: Public Perception of Climate Change Information Provided by Government Versus the Market
Despite scientific consensus over the threat posed by climate change, governmental actions remain modest or stalled, often because of profound societal polarization: more liberal individuals tend to accept climate change as real, anthropogenic, and as posing a substantial (if not existential) threat, while more conservative individuals tend to doubt such assertions. The standard explanation for this phenomenon is that liberals tend to believe government-provided information—as information about climate change tends to be—while conservatives tend to doubt it. Commentators suggest that market-generated climate change information would more likely sway conservatives.
But this assertion lacks any empirical support. This Article explores this theory by investigating the link between institutional source of information and personal beliefs using a survey-based experiment. While varying the institutional source generates statistically significant effects, the direction of these effects goes against commentators’ assumptions. Market-generated climate risk information is associated with less perceived credibility of the information, a lower level of trust in the informational source, and a lower confidence in the belief in climate change existence and its human attribution. The first two of these effects predominate amongst conservatives, while the latter effect is confined to liberals. These effects suggest that market-generated climate risk information will not have the desired impact of persuading conservatives but may perversely damage the confidence of liberals—whose views more closely track the predictions of climate scientists in the first place. The results raise questions about the need to move beyond governmental institutions to effectively convey climate science information and about the use of corporate environmental, social, and governance disclosure as a means to sway public opinion.