Feb 2018

Unintended effects of emphasizing the role of climate change in recent natural disasters

Dixon, G., Bullock, O.M., & Adams, D.

Environmental Communication

Abstract

In 2017, the United States experienced a series of natural hazards (hurricanes, wildfires, and blizzards) that resulted in significant loss of life and property. Emphasizing the role of climate change in these events might offer an important tool for engagement, particularly with skeptical audiences. However, in a survey experiment (Nā€‰=ā€‰1504) involving three different natural hazards ā€“ hurricanes, wildfires, and blizzards ā€“ we find that emphasizing the role of climate change in these hazards produced unintended effects for climate change skeptics. In particular, skeptics experienced resistance to the news article, which associated with reduced perceived hazard severity. These backfiring effects likely serve as a defensive mechanism used by skeptics to maintain their prior views of climate change, illustrating the challenges faced in communicating climate change to skeptical audiences. These findings offer additional insight for those attempting to communicate climate-related risk information to skeptical audiences.

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