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Published: 06.02.2024
Oppdatert: 08.02.2024

Katrine Jaklin
Thea Gregersen

As much as 48 percent of Norwegians report feeling angry when thinking about climate change. Both the direct and indirect consequences of climate change can feel unjust. This evokes strong emotions.

Researcher Thea Gregersen explains that the feeling of anger is related to the experience of injustice and the perception that something or someone is preventing us from reaching our goals:

– We find that people are typically angry that too little is being done to prevent climate change, and they specifically point fingers at politicians as responsible. People are also angry about what they perceive as indifference, both among politicians and the general population, says Gregersen.

Alongside Gisle Andersen and Endre Tvinnereim, Gregersen used the Norwegian Citizen Panel (Norsk medborgerpanel) to investigate the extent to which respondents feel anger when thinking about climate change and everything associated with it. It turned out that just under half, 48 percent, reported experiencing anger to some extent when thinking about climate change. The researchers also found that women, younger age groups, and those who are on the left side politically report more anger.

Are angry people more engaged?

The researchers also explored whether those who reported more climate anger also reported more climate engagement, and whether the content of the anger, i.e., what people are actually angry about, could affect the relationship with engagement.

– For us to have an emotional reaction to something, we must care about it—it must be relevant to our values or goals. That goal can be, for example, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change. We find that some people are angry about what they perceive as political inaction, lack of prioritization, or things taking too long. Others are angry about climate skeptics and prioritization of money over nature. Or about the consequences climate change will have for nature or people. In this context, the absence of emotions is also interesting, explains Gregersen.

It turns out that people's emotions related to climate change and actions are highly relevant to their attitudes and engagement in climate issues. To meet climate goals and adapt to changes, society depends on citizens' willingness to change behavior and accept new rules and technologies.

But it's not just the typical climate activists who are angry; also, those who feel that proposed or implemented climate measures are unnecessary or unjust are angry. Dissatisfaction with tolls, increased fees, and new wind farms may be examples of this.

– In some cases, we have seen that one does not necessarily exclude the other—like when Greta Thunberg showed up to support the Fosen wind farm protest, says Gregersen.
Photo: Lucas Boitquin, Splento, Thea Gregersen, Thea holder innlegg 3, ,

Photo: Lucas Boitquin, Splento

Thea Gregersen

The "political feeling"

Many describe that climate change evokes emotions such as guilt, hope, fear, and sadness. The various emotions can motivate action in different ways. Gregersen describes anger as a particularly active feeling—a feeling that demands action:

– While other emotions are more closely linked to other types of climate behavior, such as support for specific political measures or intention to reduce one's emissions, anger is especially closely linked to protest and activism. Anger has been referred to as 'the political feeling, she says.

Previous research, which has focused on topics other than climate, has pointed out that the combination of anger and powerlessness or anger and contempt is undesirable.

– In order to harness the motivational potential of anger and avoid undesirable outcomes, it is important that anger is combined with a sense that change is possible. It is also important to believe that it is possible to communicate and cooperate across groups and avoid contempt. One challenge with climate anger is that the feeling potentially can be polarizing—because it holds someone accountable. If, for example, blame is directed towards older generations or those who drive a lot, it will naturally be uncomfortable for these groups. They may perceive it as unfair and feel misunderstood, concludes Gregersen.

Further research

Overall, there has been little research on climate anger. Studies on climate emotions can help us understand and predict resistance and conflict and contribute to more effective communication campaigns. Together with a group in Australia, NORCE researchers are now working on developing a large international survey to examine the causes and effects of climate anger more closely.

Gregersen has also studied the consequences of showing more anger. In the current study, the researchers used survey experiments to uncover whether it could be motivating for the audience when researchers show anger or were sad when communicating about climate change, and whether the effects depend on the researcher's gender.

Banner photo: Adobestock/Pajaros Volando - the photo is generated by AI.

Contact person

Thea Gregersen

Senior Researcher - Bergen
+47 56 10 73 19