Maximizing Climate Change Outreach Post Extreme Weather

By October 19, 2014 March 12th, 2015 Extreme Weather, Messaging, Psycho

This study uses 1,008 survey participants to evaluate where extra effort should be applied to leverage  increasing awareness in climate issues after extreme weather events. Extreme weather has already increased because of warming in some circumstances (including cold weather extremes) and experiencing extreme weather increases climate change awareness of individuals. This work suggest using extreme or rare weather to create “teachable moments” to enhance climate science learning.

The questions asked by this work are: “What types and scales of events are the best teachers? And how near must a person be relative to the event for it to create a teaching opportunity?” What they say next is so important: “These are important questions not only for climate educators trying to understand where to devote limited time and resources, but also for risk managers hoping to encourage disaster preparedness.”

We must make better use of our scarce resources. By focusing outreach efforts in extreme weather prone areas we can not only enhance climate learning; we can better prepare those communities for even greater increases in extreme weather.

These researchers, from Utah and Oregon State Colleges, as well as Yale and George Mason Universities, say that Rudiman 2013 (from Rutgers) found that pro environmental beliefs and support for politicians who themselves support climate change action was increased by hurricanes Sandy and Irene. More specifically, the authors define a “shadow of influence” that  can extend beyond individual’s or geographic areas that experience extreme weather.

Tornadoes, droughts and hurricanes were the extreme weather events that the survey topics focused upon. What these researchers did was track awareness in areas where extreme storms had occurred. Simple, right? From the Methods section of the paper: “Positive concentrations of responses were identified after calculating asymptotic p-value surfaces, with positive concentrations at the 95 and 99 % confidence level represented as contours superimposed on the relative risk surface.” In other words, they mapped the positive responses and found that they extended far beyond the physical impacts of the actual extreme weather.

Many more of us actually “experience extreme events through proximity” in the county or geographic region where we live or visit and then through local media coverage, or through relatives, friends or colleagues who were impacted. These events can be very borad-scoped when increased climate awareness is concerned.

How can we capitalize on this phenomena? The paper itself was thin on suggestions. They said weathercasters “can provide important climate change context for extreme weather events,” and for droughts, “communication efforts may need to focus on encouraging public recognition of the phenomenon as well as preparedness behaviors.”

A big question remains: is taking advantage of this population—after they are personally impacted by this act of nature, whether it was enhanced by mankind’s climate pollution or not—an ethical or morally appropriate thing to do?

Howe et al., Mapping the shadow of experience of extreme weather events, Climatic Change, October 13, 2014.
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