Abstract

Believing action to reduce the risks of climate change is both possible (self‐efficacy) and effective (response efficacy) is essential to motivate and sustain risk mitigation efforts, according to current risk communication theory. Although the public recognizes the dangers of climate change, and is deluged with lists of possible mitigative actions, little is known about public efficacy beliefs in the context of climate change. Prior efficacy studies rely on conflicting constructs and measures of efficacy, and links between efficacy and risk management actions are muddled. As a result, much remains to learn about how laypersons think about the ease and effectiveness of potential mitigative actions. To bring clarity and inform risk communication and management efforts, we investigate how people think about efficacy in the context of climate change risk management by analyzing unprompted and prompted beliefs from two national surveys (N = 405, N = 1,820). In general, respondents distinguish little between effective and ineffective climate strategies. While many respondents appreciate that reducing fossil fuel use is an effective risk mitigation strategy, overall assessments reflect persistent misconceptions about climate change causes, and uncertainties about the effectiveness of risk mitigation strategies. Our findings suggest targeting climate change risk communication and management strategies to (1) address gaps in people’s existing mental models of climate action, (2) leverage existing public understanding of both potentially effective mitigation strategies and the collective action dilemma at the heart of climate change action, and (3) take into account ideologically driven reactions to behavior change and government action framed as climate action.