Natural scientists have described global warming as perhaps the preeminent environmental risk confronting the world in the 21st century. Meanwhile, social scientists have found that people respond to hazards based on their perception of the risks.

What the public perceives as a risk, why they perceive it that way and how they will subsequently behave are thus vital questions for policymakers attempting to address global climate change, in which the effects are delayed, have inequitable distributions of costs and benefits, and are beyond the control of any one group.

In this situation, public support or rejection of proposed climate policies will be greatly influenced by the perceived risks of global warming. Further, “scientists need to know how the public is likely to respond to climate impacts or initiatives because those responses can attenuate or amplify the impacts.

This dissertation uses survey methods to investigate global warming risk perceptions, policy preferences and individual behaviors among three populations: the American public, the Oregon public, and student climate change activists attending the 2000 World Climate Conference (COP6) at The Hague, Netherlands. Global warming, or global climate change, refers to the enhanced greenhouse effect resulting from anthropogenic, or human-caused, emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is a natural process that traps heat at the Earth’s surface. Short-wave radiation from the sun is absorbed by the Earth’s surface and converted into long-wave, infrared radiation (heat).

The Earth, in turn, radiates this longwave energy back towards space. Some of this energy escapes, but some is trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (e.g., carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.), which act as a thermal blanket to keep the Earth warmer than it would otherwise be. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas of concern, despite comprising less than .03% of the atmosphere.

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