Jun 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:38 AM EDT

How Community Fares in an Extreme Storm Shape Climate Beliefs

Jun 01, 2019 11:13 AM EDT

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How Community Fares in an Extreme Storm Shape Climate Beliefs
(Photo : US Environmental Protection Agency)

Recent studies have indicated that individuals who experience the impact of hurricanes, catastrophic flooding, or other severe weather events are more likely to believe in and concerned about climate change in the wake of the disaster.

In a new study published in the journal Climate Change by researchers at Duke University and the University of Colorado, Denver (UCD), the team discovered that not all severe weather impacts have the same effect.

An assistant professor of the practice of environmental science and policy methods at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, Elizabeth A. Albright, noted that how community or neighborhood fares, the damages it suffers, may have a stronger and more lasting effect on the climate beliefs than individual impacts do. Explaining further, the researchers discovered that damage at the zip-code level as measured by FEMA was positively connected with stronger climate change beliefs even three or four years after the extreme flooding event their study examined.

She noted further that individuals who perceived that damage had occurred at such a broad scale were more likely to believe that climate change is a problem and is causing harm. These sets are also more likely to perceive a higher risk of future flooding in their community.

In contrast, people's 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.

Deserai Crow, associate professor of public affairs at UCD said that these findings speak to the power of collective experiences and suggest that how the impacts from extreme weather are conceptualized, measured, and shared matters significantly in terms of influencing individual beliefs.

In 2016 and 2017, the researchers conducted their study by surveying residents of six Colorado communities including Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, Estes Park, Loveland, and Evans that had suffered devastating flooding after days of intense rainfall dropped nearly a year's worth of precipitation in the mountains upstream from them in September 2013.

They queried residents in their query 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 neighborhood. Also, it asked for personal information like political affiliation.

Crow explained that as expected, they found that political affiliation was related to the extent to which flood experience affected a person's climate beliefs. She noted further that this partisan divide did not extend to perceptions of future flood risks. 

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