Bad weather’s good for ‘going green’

CARDIFF / NOTTINGHAM (UK) — When bad weather hits home, concerns about climate change increase—as does the willingness to engage in energy-saving behaviors.

In particular, members of the British public are more prepared to take personal action and reduce their energy use when they perceive their local area has a greater vulnerability to flooding, according to research by Cardiff and Nottingham universities. Findings are reported in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Although no single flooding event can be attributed to climate change, Britain has experienced a series of major flood events over the past decade, something that is expected to increase in years to come as a result of climate change.

“We know that many people tend to see climate change as distant, affecting other people and places,” says psychologist Alexa Spence, now at the University of Nottingham. “However experiences of extreme weather events like flooding have the potential to change the way people view climate change, by making it more real and tangible, and ultimately resulting in greater intentions to act in sustainable ways.”

The research team and the market and opinion research company Ipsos-MORI surveyed 1,822 members of the British public to test whether personal experience of flooding had affected perceptions about climate change. They also looked at whether those perceptions would affect respondents’ intentions regarding energy use.

The study revealed that people who reported flooding experiences had significantly different perceptions of climate change, compared to those who had not experienced flooding. These perceptions were, in turn related to a greater preparedness to save energy. In particular:

  • Those who reported flooding in their local area were more likely to be concerned about climate change, to perceive a greater local vulnerability to its impacts, and also felt more able to have an impact (perceived instrumentality) over the issue.
  • Flooding experiences were also linked to lower levels of uncertainty regarding the existence of climate change.
  • Perceived instrumentality, concern, and perceived local vulnerability were found to mediate the relationship between flooding experience and preparedness to reduce energy use.

“This important study provides the first solid evidence for something which has been suspected for some time—that people’s local experience of climate related events such as flooding will promote higher awareness of the issue. As a result it suggests new ways for engaging people with this most important and pressing of environmental issues,” says Nick Pidgeon, a psychology professor at Cardiff University, who led the research team.

The research was jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust. Additional support was received from Horizon Digital Economy Research.