Elke Weber

Advantages of Local Climate Change Forecasts and Feedback, With a Couple of Caveats

Climate change tends to be seen as an abstract and temporally distant threat, both features that decrease willingness to invest in adaptation or mitigation. Downscaling forecasts of climate change impacts to a local community scale (as, for example, in FEMA’s new Flood Zone Maps) helps to make risks concrete and imaginable. Experiencing local impacts of climate change (e.g., greater frequency of extreme events, droughts, storm surges and flooding, etc.) has also been shown to increase willingness to take protective action at least temporarily, in part perhaps because personal experience is seen as a trustworthy source of information (“seeing is believing”). Local forecasts and personal experience of adverse climate change consequences are most likely to trigger protective actions, but consideration of mitigation may well emerge as the result of engaging in adaptation planning, making the two types of action complements rather than substitutes. Two caveats: (i) Local experience changes the minds of individuals whose minds are not made up on the issue, leading to evidence-based belief revision, but climate change deniers or alarmists tend to perceive such information in belief-motivated ways. (ii) Local weather abnormalities introduce distracting variability into people’s beliefs about climate change and their willingness to take action (“local warming”).

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