A growing body of research examines the role of extreme weather experience—as one of the most personal, visceral (and increasingly frequent and severe) impacts of climate change—in shaping views on climate change. A remaining question is whether the experience of an extreme weather event increases climate change concern via experiential learning or reinforces existing views via motivated reasoning. Building on this work, we explore the relationship between personal experience and climate change policy preferences using surveys in 10 communities that experienced extreme weather events (3 tornadoes, 3 floods, 2 wildfires, 1 hurricane and 1 landslide). We find that self-reported personal harm aligns with objective measures of event impacts and that personal harm (i.e., experience) is associated with higher levels of policy support. However, we do not find that objective measures of event impacts are related to policy support. Though political ideology (i.e., motivated reasoning) dominates our model of policy support in predictable ways, personal harm moderates this relationship suggesting that conservatives reporting higher levels of personal harm from the event are, on average, more likely to express support for climate policy than those reporting lower levels of harm. We postulate that while extreme weather events may serve as teachable moments on climate change, their lessons may only reach conservatives who feel personally harmed, even in the communities most affected.
Zanocco, C., Boudet, H., Nilson, R., & Flora, J. (2019). Personal harm and support for climate change mitigation policies: Evidence from 10 U.S. communities impacted by extreme weather. Global Environmental Change, 59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2019.101984