Do Extreme Weather Events Change Views on Climate Policies?

Right on the heels of the destructive Hurricane Harvey was the much-feared Hurricane Irma, which tore through Caribbean islands and Florida’s peninsula and left many without homes or power. Within the last month the world also saw severe flooding in Southeast Asia and catastrophic mudslides in Sierra Leone. All around the globe people are seeing firsthand how mighty and devastating Mother Nature can be. But how does witnessing these events firsthand affect a person’s perspective on how to address the problem?

A recent study was published in the journal Global Environmental Change to investigate just that. Logically, one would presume that people who have been hit hard by extreme weather events would be quick to jump on board with climate policies that work to mitigate these devastating effects. It turns out that there is increased support for such policies after disaster strikes, but it doesn’t last for very long. In fact, this support tends to level off about a month after the weather event takes place.

“People respond to recent weather, whether it’s temperature spikes, severe storms or other events. But the effects are small,” David Konisky, study author and associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, told Science Daily. “People are pretty certain of where they stand on climate change, and extreme weather does not really move the needle much.”

By examining study participants’ survey responses, the researchers found that political party affiliation and beliefs tend to have a larger effect on long-term attitudes toward climate policies. Specifically, they found that participants who experienced unique events only had a modest spike in support for policies that would address those particular events and their effects. One example is regions where people experienced coastal flooding saw only a modest increase in support for policies that would limit coastal development.

So, what are concerned citizens to do—especially when it seems like our neighbors both near and far may not be making the same connections or invoking the same passionate fight against climate change as we are? There are many steps we can take to create a direct impact and to educate others. We can show our friends and family how everyday changes can be easy and can make a big difference. Reducing the amount of animal-based foods in our diet is one small step with huge positive consequences, as well as traveling less and reducing and reusing before we even think about recycling (and then recycling as a final option). Every bit counts.

As we move onward from these recent natural disasters and toward the next ones, let us not forget or willfully ignore the connection to a larger context. And let us not fail to see our obligation to do what we can to make the future a better place.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock


Amanda M
Amanda M6 days ago

If the attitudes of Twitler and his minions, especially those in positions like Pruitt's handling of the EPA and the other climate-change deniers he wants to head NOAA and other places, are any indication, these extreme weather events are only going to drive their heads further up their asses on the subject of climate change. Meanwhile, the rest of us (hopefully) know better!

One Heart i
One Heart inc15 days ago


Summerannie M
Summerannie M20 days ago


Mary B
Mary B22 days ago

Aaron F. I stand by my original post and my final conclusion.

Janis K
Janis K22 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Mike R
Mike R24 days ago


Aaron F
Aaron F27 days ago

@Mary B. You're taking what I say purely from your own perspective. Try reading my comments literally and you might see my points instead of your bias. BTW, have you noticed that no one is paying attention to this but you?

Mary B
Mary B27 days ago

Aaron F I don't CARE what you think,do, or assume in your personal life. You're the one talking about driving your cart 2 blocks to the market, and now you're trying to tell me that was MY assumption and it was RUDE ! Tactics of a TROLL. Nothing to add you just keep going around in the same loop , stupid logic,projection, etc. You're an attention parasite, and nobody is fooled.

RONALD Walker27 days ago

I think there is something in our Brain that will tone down bad experiences. Now I don't a lot about how people handle stress. So I am showing what little I know. Climate Change is real and it's getting worse every year!. It's time to try the first brain transplant on trump. We have nothing to lose.

Aaron F
Aaron F28 days ago

@Mary B. Again, you don't know me or what I do or even what I think This is not about my educated opinions. Don't make assumptions just because I disagree with you and side with the documented facts. Did you drive your car two blocks to the market today? THAT's an assumption and it's rather rude....