Teachable moments about climate change

First-hand experience of extreme weather often makes people change their minds about the realities of climate change. That's because people are simply more aware of an extreme weather event the closer they are to its core, and the more intense the incidence is. So says Peter Howe of Utah State University in the US, who led a study in Springer's journal Climatic Change Letters about people's ability to accurately recall living through extreme weather events. It also focused on how people's proximity to such events – the so-called "shadow of experience" – aids their awareness of climatic episodes.

Howe's team mapped data on people's perceptions from a national survey of 1,008 US adults conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. The data were then overlaid on other maps of actual recorded events such as droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes.

They found that the public tends to accurately recall and report on extreme weather conditions. This is particularly true for hurricanes and tornadoes that cause large-scale destruction and personal suffering as well as events that attract media coverage. Drought, on the other hand, is much more difficult to perceive because it happens slowly over a longer period of time. It also generally affects a larger area of land. Actually, most people only believe that they have experienced a drought after 25 weeks of persistently dry conditions.

The closer people were to a weather event, the more intense and destructive it was and the longer it lasted, the better are the chances that people will note it. Howe says the proximity effect may be explained by an increased likelihood of personally suffering harm or property damage as one approaches the site of the event, as well as environmental cues (such as dark clouds or high winds) and social cues (such as tornado sirens or warnings).

"The shadow of experience – or the area within which people are more likely to report that they have experienced extreme events – increases as the magnitude of an event increases," explains Howe. "Indirect damage through disruption of services, utilities, businesses, social networks, and local economies are one likely cause for the tendency of people to report personally experiencing events even if they live many kilometers away and did not suffer direct personal damage."

Howe and his team believe that maps showing the shadows of experience of extreme weather could be used to focus disaster preparedness and climate education efforts after an event. They advise weathercasters to provide more context when extreme weather events happen, and to educate their viewers about the climatic reasons behind them. In the case of droughts, the public should be helped to recognize the phenomenon as it is happening and to take specific steps to deal with it.


Explore further

Climate change: Don't wait until you can feel it

More information: link.springer.com/article/10.1 … 07/s10584-014-1253-6
Provided by Springer
Citation: Teachable moments about climate change (2014, October 14) retrieved 20 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2014-10-teachable-moments-climate.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
0 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Oct 14, 2014
Question? When is extreme weather, AGW? Whenever AGW religionists say so. When isn't extreme weather, AGW? Whenever AGW religionists say so

I've been told one weather pattern is not AGW..... then one pattern IS AGW.

World wide temps not rising for last two decades... no problem for AGW religionists... the heat is going into the oceans..... Well no temps rising in deep oceans...... no problem for AGW relisionists..... it's going somewhere.... it must... it has to be...AL (Making a huge profit) Gore says so.


Oct 14, 2014
Problem is so much of what you are teaching just isn't so. More political science for Dummy's.

Oct 14, 2014
It's sad sharp fallacy has more power than a world of evidence and reason.

Fossil dumping in the air causes serious harm by radiative transfer, stoichiometry, biochemistry and positive feedbacks, thousands of well-documented sets of evidence and inference say.

But some people can't grasp it until their crops fail or their roof is blown off, far too late.

Even drawing the trends out for people, like http://www.woodfo.../mean:29 doesn't dispel lies like claims of no warming for X years, for some.

Oct 14, 2014
Freeman Dyson's 2008 NY Times interview

http://www.nytime...;gwt=pay

He really is the only source you need to fight the nonsense spouted by the majority.

The polar bears will be fine.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more