Executive summary of the master thesis of Paolo Amantini. Data Analytics for politics, society and complex organizations within the MA in Public and Corporate Communication (COM), University of Milano. Academic year: 2022/2023
Every day we hear about climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. According to osservatorio cittàclima by Legambiente, in Italy in 2022 there were 310 extreme weather events and this made up to 29 victims.
This thesis investigates the effects of the climate crisis on mental health and how political ideology influences belief in the Anthropocene. It also examines the relationship between concern and trust toward both science and political institution. Specifically, four research questions were answered:
1) Are people who are more concerned about climate change more likely to experience negative moods than those who are not?
2) What effect does trust in science have on environmental concerns?
3) Does trust in political institutions increase concern toward climate change?
4) Does political ideology affect acceptance of the Anthropocene?
Data, methods & variables
This thesis focuses on Italy. The analysis was conducted using wave 5 of REsPOnsE COVID-19 data (N= 4188) and ISSP environment IV data (N= 1032). Logistic regressions were run to answer the first three research questions while a linear regression was conducted to answer the last one.
Dependent variables: Emotions i.e. feeling nervous, depressed, lonely, or not optimistic about the future (Rarely or never, Sometimes, Fairly frequently, Most of the time); Climate concern (Not at all concerned, Slightly concerned, Somewhat concerned, Very concerned, Extremely concerned); Climate change causes (Only from natural processes, Mostly from natural processes, More or less equally from natural processes and human activity, Mostly from human activity, Only from human activity).
Independent variables: Political self-placement (Extreme Left, Left, Center, Right, Extreme Right, Those who do not position themselves); Trust in University Research Centers (URC) (0=not at all, 10=complete trust), Trust in Parliament (0=not at all, 10=complete trust).
Control variables: Age (18-34, 35-54, 55+); Education (Low, Medium, High); Area (North, Center, South); Gender.
The results indicate that those worried about the environment are more likely to experience negative emotions except for loneliness. However, the directionality of this relationship – namely if I am worried, I experience negative emotions; or if I experience negative emotions, consequently I worry – could not be determined.
Figure 1: Probability of feeling negative emotions by concern level.
Consistent with the literature, an increase in trust toward university research centers (URC) corresponds to an increasing probability of being concerned about the environment, confirming the hypothesis. When there is a complete lack of trust there is a 43.24% probability of being concerned about the environment, while if there is complete trust in URCs there is an 83.21% probability of being concerned about the environment.
Figure 2: Probability of being concerned about climate change by the level of trust in URC.
In contrast with previous studies, if the trust in the Italian Parliament increases, the probability of being concerned about climate change decreases. In fact, when an individual has no trust the probability of her/him being concerned about climate change is 60%, while if she/he has complete trust in parliament the probability is just around 38%. This result offers multiple questions that future research should investigate.
Figure 3: Probability of being concerned by level of trust in parliament.
Historically, the issue of climate change is a topic dear to the left. These tend to accept the idea of the Anthropocene more than those who position themselves to the center or right or who do not position themselves at all. This result confirms my hypothesis that, depending on political orientation, the idea of the Anthropocene will be accepted or not.
Figure 4: Believe in the Anthropocene by political self-placement. 95% confidence intervals.
The topic I chose is a wide one, and the approach I used led me to consider multiple different aspects (not just eco-anxiety). The topic is new and emerging, especially in Italy, so a study that goes to delineate various facets that future research should cover was necessary. The rush to mitigate the effect of this crisis sometimes causes issues such as those discussed in this paper to fall by the wayside, but in reality, they are just as crucial.