Climate Change

C.C. Demski (chair); S. Capstick; M. Ojala; N. Zeiske. Location: A2

The experience of flooding and its influence on climate change perceptions

C. C. Demski, S. B. Capstick, N. F. Pidgeon, R. G. Sposato, & A. Spence

Climate change can be temporally, geographically and socially distant from people’s everyday lives, leading to a lack of engagement. By contrast, direct personal experience of climate-related impacts is one of the few ways in which climate change can become more salient for people; thus reducing this ‘psychological distance’. We examine the role of personal experience of flooding and its influence on climate change beliefs, through a focus on people’s experiences of the UK winter floods 2013/2014. A carefully constructed questionnaire is utilized to enable a distinction between the causal effect that extreme weather events have on beliefs, as opposed to prior beliefs about climate change influencing the interpretation of ‘experience’. Compared to a national sample (n=1,002), those respondents (n=135) who were most directly affected by the floods are more concerned about climate change, more likely to state they have become more concerned in the last year, and more likely to see climate change as one of the most important issues facing the UK in the future. We also find that these respondents perceive climate change as more proximal and salient to them personally. We further discuss the socio-cognitive processes that may underlie the effect of experience on perceptions.

Changing public perceptions of climate change in Great Britain

S. B. Capstick, C. C. Demski, N. F. Pidgeon, & R. G. Sposato

Public perceptions of climate change have developed in several ways during the 21st century. During the early 2000’s, there was a broad trend towards increasing public acceptance and concern, but this was followed by growing ‘scepticism’ towards the end of the decade in Britain and elsewhere. We use nationally representative survey data obtained through face-to-face interviews in people’s homes (n=1,002) in late 2014, to argue that public attitudes towards climate change are changing direction once more. Our recent British data are compared to previous findings over the past decade, to show that public acceptance of the reality of climate change, and of a human component to its causation, are at their highest levels for some years. We question the frequent characterisation of climate change as a topic considered largely irrelevant by most people, through further data that point to its importance being comparable with other social issues such as crime and education. We interrogate the notion of ‘psychological distance’ in people’s perceptions, and suggest there is wide variability in how ‘proximal’ climate change is felt to be, depending upon how this concept is understood. We consider implications from these findings for climate change communication and policy-making.

Young people’s coping strategies concerning climate change: Relations to communication patterns with parents and friends and pro-environmental behavior

M. Ojala & H. Bengtsson

Recent research indicates that emotion regulation and coping, due to the emotional character of environmental problems, can have an influence on pro-environmental behavior. Studies have, for instance, found that problem-focused and meaning-focused strategies to cope with climate change are positively, while emotion-focused strategies are negatively, related to such behavior. These studies do not, however, acknowledge that coping takes place in a social context. Therefore, this study explores how coping with climate change among Swedish adolescents (N=747) relates to pro-environmental behavior, as well as to communication patterns with parents and friends. A questionnaire was distributed in school. Principal-Component-Analyses identified two communication styles with fathers, mothers and friends respectively: one negative and one positive. Correlation analyses found that the negative patterns had positive relations to emotion-focused coping, and that the positive patterns had positive relations to problem-, and meaning-focused coping. Regression analyses showed that communication with fathers and friends was more important than communication with mothers in explaining emotion-focused and problem-focused coping. Preliminary results from a SEM-analysis indicate that coping strategies mediate the effects of communication patterns on pro-environmental behavior, and that problem-focused coping meditates the two other coping strategies influence on behavior. Results are discussed in relation to theories about emotion regulation and socialization.

What people know and do about climate change: the impact of climate change knowledge on energy use

N. Zeiske, C. van der Poel, N. Hansen, L. Steg, & M. Timmerman

Increasing people’s knowledge about climate change is an often used strategy aimed to strengthen climate change beliefs and encourage energy saving behaviour. But which type of knowledge would be most beneficial in this respect? We propose that different types of knowledge are likely to affect beliefs and behaviour differently. More specifically, we suggest that particularly knowledge about the consequences of climate change is likely to strengthen beliefs about climate change. Yet, this knowledge is not likely to reduce energy consumption, as it does not reveal what one could do to help realize it. Hence, we expect that only knowledge about one’s personal impact on climate change will reduce energy consumption. Study 1 develops and tests a climate change knowledge scale and shows that only knowledge about consequences of climate change is related to beliefs (e.g., awareness of climate change problems) among students. Study 2 shows that only knowledge of one’s own impact on the environment is related to lower energy consumption among a representative population sample. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.