Personal experience of extreme weather leads to wider understanding of climate change issues

Personal experience of extreme weather leads to wider understanding of climate change issues
In the OAA (Oxford Adaptation Academy) each year, we explore the nature of personal leadership and how it impacts on the behaviour of both small and large groups.  One of the perceived wisdoms that often surfaces is that when people are personally stressed they are more likely to think first of themselves than of others.  While this might be true of people who are experiencing a personal stress factor, such as a life-changing event or change in their personal circumstances, it isn't true of people in a community experiencing the same factor.  In the aftermath of a natural disaster, for example, many people put their own needs to one side and seek to help those around them regardless.  What isn't often appreciated is that their selflessness goes beyond the immediate situation.  They become more engaged with the wider nature of their problem and how it is impacting others from different communities.  This paper suggests that, if we wish to engage people in an understanding of global climate change-related themes, we would be well advised to look at ways of helping them 'experience' their own local ones first.
A similar approach was adopted by the British Heart Foundation recently.  They stopped people on the streets and invited them to experience what it was like to have a heart attack.  They were led up some steps into a black room and the door was shut.  People who emerged were visibly shocked, and prepared to listen to the charity's key messages.
Graham Wilson
Image: © 2016 Dr Graham Wilson (This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.)

Demski, C., Capstick, S., Pidgeon, N. et al. (2016) Experience of extreme weather affects climate change mitigation and adaptation responses. Climatic Change. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1837-4
The winter of 2013/2014 saw a series of severe storms hit the UK, leading to widespread flooding, a major emergency response and extensive media exposure. Previous research indicates that experiencing extreme weather events has the potential to heighten engagement with climate change, however the process by which this occurs remains largely unknown, and establishing a clear causal relationship from experience to perceptions is methodologically challenging. The UK winter flooding offered a natural experiment to examine this question in detail. We compare individuals personally affected by flooding (n = 162) to a nationally representative sample (n = 975). We show that direct experience of flooding leads to an overall increased salience of climate change, pronounced emotional responses and greater perceived personal vulnerability and risk perceptions. We also present the first evidence that direct flooding experience can give rise to behavioural intentions beyond individual sustainability actions, including support for mitigation policies, and personal climate adaptation in matters unrelated to the direct experience.
About us
Established in 2010, GCAP (http://climateadaptation.cc) ranks among the top 10 leading climate think tanks globally, providing knowledge services related to national adaptation investment and finance, climate economics, climate adaptation strategy and planning and climate risk screening.  A world class organisation, we support managers holding over $1 billion in funds.  Our flagship, Oxford Adaptation Academy (http://www.climateadaptation.cc/our-work/adaptation-academy), is a unique incubator for leadership and innovation within the field of climate adaptation.
Dr Graham Wilson leads the personal development and leadership strand of the Adaptation Academy.  With a background in ethology and behavioural science, he is an Executive, Leadership and Political Confidant, Tutor in Psychology and Counselling with the University of Oxford, and Co-Director of the Oxford Adaptation Academy.  His research interests include coaching and visual anthropology.  [LinkedIn = http://tinyurl.com/drgwli]
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