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Place, proximity, and perceived harm: extreme weather events and views about climate change


  • Chad Zanocco

    () (Oregon State University)

  • Hilary Boudet

    (Oregon State University)

  • Roberta Nilson

    (Cornell University)

  • Hannah Satein

    (Oregon State University)

  • Hannah Whitley

    (Pennsylvania State University)

  • June Flora

    (Stanford University)


Advances in event attribution have improved scientific confidence in linking climate change to extreme weather severity and frequency, but this confidence varies by event type. Yet, scholars and activists argue that extreme weather events may provide the best opportunity to raise awareness and prompt action on climate change. We focus on four cases of extreme weather with low attribution (tornado outbreaks in Laurel County, Kentucky, and Winston County, Mississippi; wildfires in Yavapai County, Arizona, and Lake County, California). We survey county residents to examine the role of event proximity, community- and event-specific characteristics, and reported harm in shaping climate change views post-event. Using multilevel regression analysis, we find that reported personal and community harm aligns with event proximity and larger community damages. For our respondents’ climate change views, however, political ideology dominates, suggesting the importance of motivated reasoning in individual interpretations of extreme weather events. At the same time, while event proximity is irrelevant, we find reported harm to be related to climate change views. Thus, while respondents appear to be making connections between extreme weather events and climate change among our four cases, these connections seem to be most likely to occur in communities where belief in climate change is already high, the event caused significant impacts and is more attributable to climate change, and elites frame the event in these terms—as in Lake County. Our findings are particularly relevant for policymakers and activists looking to such events as catalysts for climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Suggested Citation

  • Chad Zanocco & Hilary Boudet & Roberta Nilson & Hannah Satein & Hannah Whitley & June Flora, 2018. "Place, proximity, and perceived harm: extreme weather events and views about climate change," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 149(3), pages 349-365, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:149:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s10584-018-2251-x
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-018-2251-x

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Charles Adedayo Ogunbode & Yue Liu & Nicole Tausch, 2017. "The moderating role of political affiliation in the link between flooding experience and preparedness to reduce energy use," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 145(3), pages 445-458, December.
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    4. Peter Howe & Hilary Boudet & Anthony Leiserowitz & Edward Maibach, 2014. "Mapping the shadow of experience of extreme weather events," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 127(2), pages 381-389, November.
    5. Adam Corner & Lorraine Whitmarsh & Dimitrios Xenias, 2012. "Uncertainty, scepticism and attitudes towards climate change: biased assimilation and attitude polarisation," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 114(3), pages 463-478, October.
    6. David Konisky & Llewelyn Hughes & Charles Kaylor, 2016. "Extreme weather events and climate change concern," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 134(4), pages 533-547, February.
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    10. Matthew R. Sisco & Valentina Bosetti & Elke U. Weber, 2017. "When do extreme weather events generate attention to climate change?," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 143(1), pages 227-241, July.
    11. J. Carlton & Amber Mase & Cody Knutson & Maria Lemos & Tonya Haigh & Dennis Todey & Linda Prokopy, 2016. "The effects of extreme drought on climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and adaptation attitudes," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 135(2), pages 211-226, March.
    12. Tatyana Deryugina, 2013. "How do people update? The effects of local weather fluctuations on beliefs about global warming," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 118(2), pages 397-416, May.
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    1. 2018 Saw Simultaneous Wildfires Devastate California. That Could be the New Normal
      by ? in Discover Top Stories on 2018-12-12 20:27:11


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    Cited by:

    1. Karine Lacroix & Robert Gifford & Jonathan Rush, 2020. "Climate change beliefs shape the interpretation of forest fire events," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 159(1), pages 103-120, March.
    2. Charles A. Ogunbode & Rouven Doran & Gisela Böhm, 0. "Individual and local flooding experiences are differentially associated with subjective attribution and climate change concern," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 0, pages 1-13.
    3. Shawn Olson Hazboun & Hilary Schaffer Boudet, 2020. "Public Preferences in a Shifting Energy Future: Comparing Public Views of Eight Energy Sources in North America’s Pacific Northwest," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 13(8), pages 1-21, April.
    4. Elizabeth A Albright & Deserai Crow, 2019. "Beliefs about climate change in the aftermath of extreme flooding," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 155(1), pages 1-17, July.

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