Public Resource

Do natural disasters change risk perceptions and policy preferences about climate change?

Giancarlo Visconti & Kayla Young, Purdue University.

Drawing on county-level U.S. public opinion data from 2014-2018, as well as data on federally declared disasters across the country, this paper shows that exposure to natural disasters increases the likelihood of both believing that climate change will harm people and supporting the adoption of some measures to address it.

Analysis shows that changes in both risk perception and support for mitigating measures extend beyond pro-environmental statements (e.g. regulating CO2) to include greater approval for proposals with measurable steps toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions and shifting to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels; this suggests that support for mitigation measures will continue to grow as the effects of climate change are increasingly realized. However, because disaster events may be especially frequent and severe in some areas, changes in public opinion may not necessarily be uniform across the country, which could mean that climate action occurs at a more local level 

Rather than purely driven by long-term ideological or partisan beliefs, this research suggests that the climate change preference formation process can include updates based on individuals’ personal circumstances.