Climate change is the world's greatest threat – in Celsius or Fahrenheit?

Eugene Y. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


In two experiments, participants who were told that the Earth's average temperature was −24 °C thought that it was more important to limit climate change than those who were told that it was −16 °C. However, participants who were told that the average temperature was −11 °F thought it was less important to reduce the carbon footprint than those who were told that it was 3 °F. The findings contradict each other since −24 °C is the same as −11 °F, and −16 °C is the same as 3 °F. We draw on research on numerosity and goal-pursuit from behavioral psychology to explain the intriguingly-opposite findings. We measure both the perceived influence of and actual behavior to help fight climate change. Thus, we offer the novel hypothesis that presenting climate change figures in Celsius or Fahrenheit—two primary units to communicate temperature—can influence people's belief in or concern regarding climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-26
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Climate change
  • Numerosity
  • Goal pursuit
  • Scientific communication

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