Impacts from weather calamities, flooding shape climate beliefs

Washington: Previous studies highlighted that individuals who have experienced calamities like hurricanes, catastrophic flooding or others are more likely to be concerned about climate change. However, a new study added that not all severe weather impacts carry the same effect.

The study was published in the journal ‘Climate Change’.

“How our community or neighbourhood fares, the damages it suffers, may have a stronger and more lasting effect on our climate beliefs than individual impacts do,” said Elizabeth A. Albright, Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

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“We found that damage at the zip-code level as measured by FEMA was positively associated with stronger climate change beliefs even three or four years after the extreme flooding event our study examined,” Albright said.
People who perceived that large-scale damage was done were more likely to believe climate change as a problem causing harm, she explained.

In contrast, individual losses such as damage to one’s own house appeared to have a negligible long-term impact on climate change beliefs and perceptions of future risks.

“These findings speak to the power of collective experiences and suggest that how the impacts from extreme weather are conceptualized, measured and shared matters greatly in terms of influencing individual beliefs,” said Deserai Crow, University of Colorado.

The study conducted in 2016-17, surveyed residents of six Colorado communities — Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, Estes Park, Loveland and Evans which suffered devastating flooding after days of intense rainfall dropped nearly a year’s worth of precipitation in mountains upstream from them in September 2013.

The surveys queried residents about their climate change beliefs, their perception of the extent of damage caused by the 2013 flooding, and their perception of future flood risks in their neighbourhood. It also asked for personal information, such as political affiliation.

In each community, 150 surveys were sent to randomly selected homes in areas that had been inundated by the flood and 350 surveys were sent to randomly selected homes in neighbourhoods that were spared. A total of 903 surveys were completed and returned, for an overall response rate of about 17%.

“As expected, we found that political affiliation was related to the extent to which flood experience affected a person’s climate beliefs,” said researcher Deserai Crow, University of Colorado.

Republicans and Democrats perceived similar levels of risk, regardless of whether or not they attributed it to human-caused climate change.

“As climate change plays out and we see more frequent extreme weather and floods, how communities respond to those events may predict how resilient they become and how they will recover,” Albright said.


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