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In 2017, the United States experienced a series of natural hazards (hurricanes, wildfires, and blizzards) that resulted in significant loss of life and property. Emphasizing the role of climate change in these events might offer an important tool for engagement, particularly with skeptical audiences. However, in a survey experiment (N = 1504) involving three different natural hazards – hurricanes, wildfires, and blizzards – we find that emphasizing the role of climate change in these hazards produced unintended effects for climate change skeptics. In particular, skeptics experienced resistance to the news article, which associated with reduced perceived hazard severity. These backfiring effects likely serve as a defensive mechanism used by skeptics to maintain their prior views of climate change, illustrating the challenges faced in communicating climate change to skeptical audiences. These findings offer additional insight for those attempting to communicate climate-related risk information to skeptical audiences.
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Environmental Communication
ISSN: 1752-4032 (Print) 1752-4040 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/renc20
Unintended Effects of Emphasizing the Role of
Climate Change in Recent Natural Disasters
Graham Dixon, Olivia Bullock & Dinah Adams
To cite this article: Graham Dixon, Olivia Bullock & Dinah Adams (2018): Unintended Effects
of Emphasizing the Role of Climate Change in Recent Natural Disasters, Environmental
Communication, DOI: 10.1080/17524032.2018.1546202
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2018.1546202
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Published online: 13 Dec 2018.
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RESEARCH INSIGHT
Unintended Eects of Emphasizing the Role of Climate Change in
Recent Natural Disasters
Graham Dixon, Olivia Bullock and Dinah Adams
School of Communication, The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA
ABSTRACT
In 2017, the United States experienced a series of natural hazards
(hurricanes, wildres, and blizzards) that resulted in signicant loss of life
and property. Emphasizing the role of climate change in these events
might oer an important tool for engagement, particularly with skeptical
audiences. However, in a survey experiment (N= 1504) involving three
dierent natural hazards hurricanes, wildres, and blizzards we nd
that emphasizing the role of climate change in these hazards produced
unintended eects for climate change skeptics. In particular, skeptics
experienced resistance to the news article, which associated with
reduced perceived hazard severity. These backring eects likely serve
as a defensive mechanism used by skeptics to maintain their prior views
of climate change, illustrating the challenges faced in communicating
climate change to skeptical audiences. These ndings oer additional
insight for those attempting to communicate climate-related risk
information to skeptical audiences.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 12 February 2018
Accepted 4 November 2018
KEYWORDS
Motivated reasoning; climate
change; natural disasters; risk
perception
Introduction
Extreme weather events aected nearly every region of the United States in 2017, leaving record-set-
ting weather conditions, evacuations, and damage in their wake. In March, Winter Storm Stella, a
Category 3 blizzard, slammed the Northeast and Midwest, dumping more than ve feet of snow
in certain areas (Wright & Carr, 2017). Later, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria made headlines
for their intensity and devastation, causing unprecedented ooding and power outages along the
Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico (Fritz, 2017). Further still, rapidly spreading wildres destroyed thou-
sands of homes and killed dozens in California, making 2017 the most destructive year of wildres
in state history (Watkins et al., 2017).
Taken together, the ongoing string of escalating natural hazards has led many to consider the role
of climate change in generating and exacerbating the severity of these threats. Climate scientists have
suggested that warming temperatures, caused by the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,
may be enabling longer and more intense cycles of droughts, oods, and storms, the likes of which
fueled each of the disasters that aected the U.S. in 2017 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, 2014). As a result, many believe that it is increasingly important for public consensus to
coalesce around the existence and inuence of anthropogenic climate change, and have proposed
using the prevalence of extreme weather events as the framework of a persuasive strategy to do so
(Cody, Stephens, Bagrow, Sheridan Dodds, & Danforth, 2017; Rudman, McLean, & Bunzl, 2013).
Although extreme natural disasters seem to be an opportunity to discuss the eects of climate
change, a growing body of research suggests that doing so may have unintended consequences.
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Graham Dixon Dixon.716@osu.edu School of Communication, The Ohio State University, Derby Hall 3015a,
Columbus, OH 43016, USA
ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION
https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2018.1546202
Often, when individuals are met with information contradicting a strongly held belief, they engage in
motivated reasoning strategies via processes such as selective exposure, psychological reactance, and
counter-arguing (Kunda, 1990; Lodge & Taber, 2000; Nisbet, Cooper, & Garrett, 2015). This process
of motivated reasoning, however, can occur with prominent climate change messaging strategies,
such as framing or consensus messaging, resulting in climate skeptics increasing their skepticism,
reducing their support for climate mitigation policies, and exacerbating distrust in scientic insti-
tutions (Cook & Lewandowsky, 2016; Hart & Nisbet, 2011; Nisbet et al., 2015; Zhou, 2016). Empha-
sizing the role of climate change in natural hazards could produce similar results. Indeed, recent
research has found that framing a natural disaster as the product of climate change results in climate
skeptics forming greater justications for not helping the victims of the natural disaster (Chapman &
Lickel, 2016). But in addition to impacting climate change beliefs, policy support, and victim assist-
ance, how might motivated reasoning impact perceptions about the natural hazard itself? In turn,
might those perceptions inuence risk preparedness behaviors?
These questions have become more salient as leading partisan media gures have argued that
natural disasters are exaggerated by journalists as a means to convince the public of climate change
(Nazarvan, 2017; Palmer, 2018). These pronouncements could shed light on how climate skeptics
respond when climate changes role in recent natural disasters is emphasized. When climate change
is highlighted as an important factor in the cause and severity of natural hazards, skeptical audiences
could engage in motivated reasoning, and as a defensive mechanism, downplay the risks posed by the
hazard. With more than half of the American public holding skeptical views of climate change (i.e.
not believing that climate change is occurring, or not believing human factors play a role), such an
eect could pose further challenges in encouraging preparedness for severe natural hazards (Funk &
Kennedy, 2016). Therefore, our study explores how emphasizing the role of climate change not only
results in motivated reasoning, but also might attenuate perceived hazard severity for natural
hazards.
Materials and methods
Study design
Participants (N= 1504; Age: M= 45.98, SD = 24.81, Female = 53.1%, White = 78.9%) were randomly
assigned to read a news article on a recent natural hazard that either emphasized the role of climate
change or did not. Our study ran from October 26 to November 3, 2017, coinciding with the 2017
hurricane and wildre seasons. In order to increase generalizability of our ndings, we ran three
separate identical surveys that included a news article discussing either hurricanes, wildres, or
blizzards. Our articles, while edited in places for length, were closely adapted from recently published
news articles in mainstream newspaper outlets. Article length varied from 254 to 279 words. Our
manipulations were also taken from existing news articles that included various scientic sources
explaining the role of climate change for the respective natural hazard. Our manipulated content
varied from 162 to 267 words (See Supplemental Information for access to stimuli).
Participant sample
Participants were recruited from Qualtricsgeneral population panel that involved obtaining partici-
pants residing in states where their assigned hazard is common. For example, those in the hurricane
survey resided in one of ten states that experience the most hurricane damage (Matthews, 2015).
Those in the wildre survey resided in one of the ten most wildre prone states (Insurance Infor-
mation Institute, 2017). Finally, those in the blizzard survey resided in states in the Midwest and
Northeast, described by the National Weather Service as the most common places for blizzards to
occur (Lebernger, 2015).
2G. DIXON ET AL.
Pre-test measures
Before condition exposure, prior climate change beliefs were measured with a six-item composite
scale used in previous research (Cook & Lewandowsky, 2016; Dixon, Hmielowski, & Ma, 2017).
Using Likert agreement (1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree) items, we measured the extent
to which people believe climate change is occurring and whether human activity plays a role,
M= 4.36, SD = .97, Cronbachs alpha = .82 (See Supplemental Information for survey items).
Political ideology was measured with a seven-point scale (1 = very conservative to 7 = very liberal),
M= 3.88, SD = 1.61. We also asked participants whether or not they had experienced their assigned
hazard close to their home. We included this item as a control variable in all of our statistical models.
While assessing climate change beliefs and political ideology prior to stimulus exposure may induce
the potential for participants to be primed by the introduction of these topics, the measures were
taken in this order to establish them as moderating variables in subsequent analyses (Frazier, Tix,
& Barron, 2004). We also placed demographic measures and an attention check after exposure to
the moderating variables on separate survey pages and just prior to condition exposure. The atten-
tion check requested respondents to match a number and those who failed the check did not proceed
with the study and were not included as completes. We believe this reduced the potential for priming
eects caused by our political ideology and climate change beliefs measures.
Post-test measures
After reading their article, participants answered an eleven-item composite scale measuring message
resistance, M= 2.84, SD = .95, Cronbachs alpha = .92. Developed by Nisbet et al. (2015) this compo-
site scale included items assessing counter-arguing, psychological reactance, and message credibility
(See SI). Perceived hazard severity was measured with three items developed by Kahan et al. (2012),
asking participants their perception of their hazards severity to human health, safety, and prosperity,
M= 4.61, SD = 1.05, Cronbachs alpha = .88.
Results
We rst examined the eect of condition (1 = emphasizing climate changes role versus 0 = not
emphasizing climate changes role) on message resistance.
1
We found signicant main eects of con-
dition, indicating that articles emphasizing climate changes role in the hazard resulted in signi-
cantly higher message resistance scores, b= .26, SE = .04, p< .001 (see Table 1, Model 1).
However, we found that the eect of condition on message resistance was moderated by ones
prior belief in climate change, b=.2, SE = .06, p< .001 (see Table 1, Model 2). R-square change
due to this interaction was signicant, albeit small, R-square change = .008, F(1, 1485) = 11.75, p
Table 1. OLS equation predicting message resistance.
Model 1 Model 2
Variable b (SE) b (SE)
Constant 4.85(.17)*** 4.47(.2)***
Ideology (liberal coded high) .06(.02)*** .07(.02)**
Prior belief in climate change .43(.03)*** .34(.04)***
Condition .26(.04)*** 1.03(.22)***
Condition x ideology .02(.03)
Condition x prior belief .2(.06)***
F test F(9,1487) = 57.42*** F(11,1485) = 52.18***
% variance explained (Total R
2
).29 .3
NOTE: Unstandardized coecients and heteroscedasticity consistent standard error reported (HC3). Results are controlling for age,
sex, race, previous experience with assigned hazard, and dummy codes for hazard type (blizzard and wildre with hurricane as
reference category).
*p< .05, **p< .01, ***p< .001
ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION 3
= .001. Probing this interaction revealed that exposure to the articles emphasizing climate change
elicited message resistance, but only for those with skeptical views of climate change (see Figures
1and 2). Furthermore, political ideology did not signicantly interact with condition in its eect
on message resistance, b=.02, SE = .03, p= .43.
We next turn to perceived hazard severity. The main eect of condition on perceived hazard
severity was not signicant, b= .04, SE = .05, p= .38 (see Table 2, Model 1). However, we report a
signicant interaction eect between condition and prior climate change beliefs, b= .16, SE = .07,
p=.041 (see Table 2, Model 2). R-square change due to this interaction was very small, yet signicant,
R-square change = .004, F(1, 1486) = 6.04, p= .014. Probing this interaction revealed that exposure to
the articles emphasizing climate change elicited greater perceived hazard severity, but only for those
who already believed in climate change, suggesting the possibility that this intervention could polar-
ize perceived hazard severity among climate change believers and skeptics. Political ideology did not
signicantly interact with condition in its eect on perceived hazard severity, b=.08, SE = .04, p
= .05 (see Figure 3).
Finally, we explored the indirect eect of condition on perceived hazard severity via message resist-
ance, and whether the indirect eect is moderated by political ideology and/or prior belief in climate
change. Specically, we considered how emphasizing climate changes role in natural hazards induces
message resistance, which in turn associates with lower perceived hazard severity. Using PROCESS
macro model 10 (Hayes, 2013;Hayes,2018), we found that message resistance mediated the eect
of condition on perceived hazard severity (see Table 2, Model 3). However, prior climate change belief,
but not political ideology, moderated this indirect eect. In particular, the index of partial moderated
mediation for political ideology was non-signicant, b=.005, 95% CI [.02, .01]. Independent of any
Figure 1. Johnson Neyman graph of the conditional eect of exposure to the climate change messages on message resistance by
prior belief in climate change. The Y axis represents eect of condition (1 = emphasizing climate changes role; 0 = not emphasizing
climate changes role) on message resistance. The X axis represents prior climate change belief scores (believers coded high). Those
with skeptical beliefs experienced strong message resistance, whereas those with favorable beliefs experienced no message resist-
ance. Probed from Table 1, Model 2 using PROCESS macro.
4G. DIXON ET AL.
moderation of the indirect eect of condition by prior climate change belief, the evidence does not sup-
port a claim that the indirect eect diers by values of political ideology. On the other hand, the index
of partial moderated mediation for prior climate change beliefs indicated moderated mediation, b=.04,
95% CI [.02, .07]. Independent of any moderation of the indirect eect of condition by political ideol-
ogy, prior climate change belief moderated this indirect eect. Probing this nding further, we found
signicant negative indirect eects for climate change skeptics (1SD from prior climate change belief
mean) regardless of their political ideology (see Table 3). No signicant indirect eects were observed
for those already believing in climate change (+1SD from prior climate change belief mean). Based on
these ndings, emphasizing climate changes role in recent natural hazards elicits message resistance
from climate skeptics, which is associated with attenuated perceived risk severity. Although these
Table 2. OLS equation predicting perceived hazard severity.
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
Variable b (SE) b (SE) b (SE)
Constant 3.08(.15)*** 3.28(.2)*** 4.22(.24)***
Ideology (liberal coded high) .01(.02) .03(.03) .01(.03)
Prior belief in climate change .36(.03)*** .28(.05)*** .21(.05)***
Condition .04(.05) .37(.26) .15(.26)
Condition x ideology .08(.04) .07(.04)
Condition x prior belief .16(.07)* .12(.07)
Message resistance ––.21(.03)***
F Test F(9, 1488) = 35.5*** F(11, 1486) = 30.48*** F(12, 1484) = 32.19***
% variance explained (Total R
2
).18 .18 .21
NOTE: Unstandardized coecients and heteroscedasticity consistent standard error reported (HC3). Results are controlling for age,
sex, race, previous experience with assigned hazard, and dummy codes for hazard type (blizzard and wildre with hurricane as
reference category).
*p< .05, **p< .01, ***p< .001.
Figure 2. Graph of the estimated means of message resistance scores by condition (1 = emphasizing climate changes role; 0 = not
emphasizing climate changes role) and prior belief in climate change (believers coded high). Probed from Table 1, Model 2 using
PROCESS macro.
ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION 5
indirect eects do not represent causal eects, these results shed further light on how climate skeptics
react when natural hazards are connected to climate change.
Discussion
Overall, our ndings document unintended eects from emphasizing the role of climate change in
recent natural hazards. Although highlighting climate change as an important factor in the cause and
severity of natural hazards might seem compelling for skeptical audiences, our results correspond
with previous ndings that persuasive climate change messaging often backres for skeptical audi-
ences (Chapman & Lickel, 2016; Cook & Lewandowsky, 2016; Hart & Nisbet, 2011; Nisbet et al.,
Figure 3. Johnson Neyman graph of the conditional eect of exposure to the climate change messages on perceived hazard sever-
ity by prior belief in climate change. The Y axis represents the eect of condition (1 = emphasizing climate changes role; 0 = not
emphasizing climate changes role) on perceived hazard severity. The X axis represents prior climate change belief scores (believers
coded high). Probed from Table 2, Model 2 using PROCESS macro.
Table 3. Conditional indirect eects on perceived hazard severity via message resistance.
Ideology Prior Belief in Climate Change Indirect Eect 95% CI
Liberals Non believers .1 .17, .06
Believers .02 .05, .002
Moderates Non Believers .1 .14, .06
Believers .01 .04, .01
Conservatives Non Believers .09 .13, .05
Believers .006 .05, .04
NOTE: Unstandardized coecients reported. 95% bootstrapped condence intervals employed 5000 samples. Partial index of mod-
erated-mediation for prior belief in climate change, b= .04, 95% CI [.02, .07]. Partial index of moderated-mediation for political
ideology, b=.005, 95% CI [.02, .01]. Liberals represent those 1SD above the ideology mean; moderates represent those at the
ideology mean; conservatives represent those 1SD below the ideology mean. Non-believers represent those 1SD below prior
belief mean; believers represent those 1SD above the prior belief mean.
6G. DIXON ET AL.
2015; Zhou, 2016). Our work here extends these previous ndings to a new context, suggesting that
highlighting the role of climate change in natural hazards lead skeptical audiences to engage in
motivated reasoning, which then associates with downplaying the risks of a natural hazard. While
our conditional indirect eects cannot be determined as causal, we believe our ndings prompt
further insight into the unintended eects of climate change messaging. Future research involving
additional experimental manipulation could explore whether the conditional indirect eects
reported in our paper represent causal relationships.
Furthermore, our ndings suggest motivated reasoning occurs for skeptics across the political
spectrum. Although political conservativism has been more aligned with climate change skepticism,
recent polling data from Pew Research shows climate skepticism exists even among twenty-one per-
cent of American self-identied liberals (Funk & Rainie, 2015). Our ndings indicate that belief in
anthropogenic climate change, rather than political ideology, might be the most predictive variable
in documenting motivated reasoning toward climate change messaging.
Lastly, our results illustrate the challenges in communicating climate change to skeptical audi-
ences. Consistent with a growing body of research, we show that explicitly connecting climate change
to highly visible and destructive natural hazards triggers resistance among climate skeptics. These
ndings, in conjunction with prior research, suggest that highlighting severe outcomes of climate
change without explicitly emphasizing climate change might avoid triggering motivated reasoning
among resistant audiences. In turn, this could promote appropriate responses to natural hazards,
as well as greater pro-environmental attitudes and policy support (Prentice, 2017). For example,
New Jersey residents signicantly aected by Hurricane Sandy showed greater implicit support
for pro-environmental politicians, leading researchers to suggest that direct experience with extreme
weather could increase pro-environmentalism (Rudman et al., 2013). Another study showed that
temperature anomalies resulting in unseasonably warm weather increased belief of anthropogenic
climate change (Hamilton & Stampone, 2013). Together, these ndings suggest that journalists
and other risk communicators should be careful to avoid polarizing terminology in discussing natu-
ral hazards, which could trigger motivated reasoning and reduce perceived severity, and instead
highlight the eects of climate change that skeptics might experience in their daily lives.
This research also demonstrates a potentially signicant connection between climate change
skepticism and risk communication. News coverage of natural disasters has been shown to connect
dangerous weather events to climate change phenomena (Feldman, Hart, & Milosevic, 2015), and
often provides recommendations to the safety of those aected by the weather event. This study
demonstrates that emphasizing climate changes role in natural hazards induces message resistance
(particularly among climate change skeptics), which in turn associates with reduced perceived
hazard severity. Ultimately, climate change skeptics may be less inclined to heed warnings about
the severity of natural disasters when those warnings include counter-attitudinal information
about climate change. On the other hand, our ndings also suggest that including climate change
in discussions of natural hazards can be an eective strategy for communicating with climate believ-
ers, and could even mobilize them to take further action. The dynamics of this relationship warrant
additional examination, and may have signicant implications for those communicating about natu-
ral disasters. With this in mind, journalists and practitioners should carefully consider their audience
and intentions before deciding whether to include climate frames in natural hazard communications.
Other research has explored the eectiveness of shaping climate change outreach and engagement
to t within the values of a target audience (Campbell & Kay, 2014; Dixon et al., 2017; Feinberg &
Willer, 2013; Nisbet, 2009). Scholars have shown that climate change messages which include free-
market solutions to climate change, or which include the morals of purity and sanctity, may more
eectively persuade climate change skeptics (Campbell & Kay, 2014; Dixon et al., 2017; Feinberg
& Willer, 2013). This research emphasizes the necessity of creating targeted messages that reect
the values and ideologies that underlie audiencesskeptical views. Doing so goes beyond simply edu-
cating the public on basic facts of climate change, but rather targets the factors behind climate change
skepticism, such as perceived threats to free market capitalism.
ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION 7
Finally, we recognize several limitations of our study that should be addressed in future research.
First, our stimuli articles were adapted from real-world news stories that used climate change to con-
vey threats related to natural disasters. While this approach enhanced external validity by mirroring
what people often encounter in their daily media consumption, it reduces our ability to concretely
determine what elements of the articles including climate change frames, tonality, or additional
scientic information produced our motivated reasoning eects. Our multi-message design, how-
ever, does lend additional support that our manipulation across dierent message types emphasis
of climate changes role in natural hazards was the causal factor in our experimental eects.
Further, our reliance on a cross-sectional study design enabled us to capture these results among
a heterogeneous sample, but without longitudinal measures, it is unclear how lasting the eects
that we found might be. Monitoring these eects over time would provide an interesting direction
for future research. Additional concerns could be made with our decision to measure our moderating
variables (i.e. climate change beliefs; political ideology) pre-test, which could have primed individ-
uals to engage more strongly in motivated reasoning. However, measuring moderators particularly,
ones prior belief in climate change post message exposure could introduce additional bias.
Measuring these variables pretest provides an important baseline measure used for examining con-
ditional eects. Furthermore, participants were exposed to demographic measures and an attention
check after exposure to the moderating variables on separate survey pages and just prior to condition
exposure. We believe this reduced the likelihood of priming eects.
Conclusion
While solving the challenges of climate change communication appear dicult, if not impossible, we
believe our study provides further insight into the unintended eects of climate change communi-
cation and points to more eective practices in reaching skeptical audiences. Using extreme out-
comes of climate change, such as salient natural disasters, might serve as important tools for
engaging with skeptical audiences. However, care should be taken in avoiding polarizing terminology
that triggers motivated reasoning and might ultimately attenuate the perceived severity of the risk at
hand.
Note
1. We collapsed our hazard types together and examined condition (emphasizing the role of climate change versus
not emphasizing the role of climate change) as our independent variable. In all analyses, we controlled for
hazard type along with age, sex, race, and previous experience with assigned hazard. Additionally, we found
that hazard type did not signicantly interact with any of our ndings, justifying collapsing them together
and focusing on our main variable of interest: emphasizing the role of climate change.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
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ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION 9
... Liberals rated a pro-CC article to be more convincing and reliable, whereas conservatives evaluated an anti-CC article more positively [22]. When an article about a natural hazard emphasized the role of CC, climate skeptics were more likely to underestimate the severity of the natural hazard, and such tendency was mediated by resistance to the message [23]. Similarly, judgments about whether abnormal temperatures were indicative of CC were influenced by individuals' preexisting CC beliefs [24]. ...
... van der Linden et al. [40] propose a gateway belief model that argues that perceived scientific consensus increases public engagement with CC. However, while some studies support the model [41 ], others have found that consensus messages are ineffective or even backfire [23,42] for those who were already skeptical about CC [43]. Although the media's coverage of climate skepticism has declined [44] or become less blatant [45], climate skepticism has persisted [38]. ...
... Conventional strategies, including climate education or consensus messaging may be especially effective among those less directionally motivated, such as adolescents or young adults [52]. Such interventions may not be effective or may even backfire among those more highly motivated [23,42]. ...
Article
The psychological concept of motivated reasoning has been widely applied to explain climate change skepticism. Evidence has been established of several motives underlying skepticism and many implicated cognitive mechanisms. At the same time, we argue that the extant literature is at times ‘too hot’ — applying a motivated reasoning framework without demonstrating directional motivation, distorted information processing, or both; and at times ‘too cold’, insufficiently considering the intervening role of motivated reasoning. We propose that a ‘just right’ perspective (a) identifies relevant motivation(s), (b) considers amotivated alternatives, (c) articulates cognitive mechanisms modulated by motivation, and (d) considers motivated origins of both skepticism and belief. Adopting this perspective will contribute to basic knowledge and inform effective intervention to promote climate action.
... Partisan-motivated reasoning, driven by increasingly overlapping social and political identities, is likely to influence the effects of protest on public opinion. For example, studies have shown that providing conservatives and Republicans with climate information not only may have no effect but can instead produce "backfire" effects wherein support for climate policy or belief in anthropogenic climate change is actually reduced because of exposure to conflicting information (e.g., protests) (Dixon, Bullock, and Adams 2019;Hart and Nisbet 2012;Zhou 2016). The effectiveness of protest at swaying public opinion, as with other forms of climate communication, is likely to face substantial resistance along partisan lines, thus limiting its capacity to increase public support for the movement. ...
... Increasing support among Democrats and independents, combined with a lack of backfire effect among Republicans, suggests a "no-risk" scenario for protest leaders considering the effects a protest event will have on public support. That is, peaceful protest will increase support both within the partisan base (Democrats) and outside (independents) without causing a backfire among Republicans, as might be anticipated by research on climate change opinion "backfire" effects (Dixon et al. 2019;Hart and Nisbet 2012;Zhou 2016). Importantly, these findings also counter the narrative that partisanship has made protest a form of "preaching to the choir" or that disruptive protest alienates bystanders and is ultimately counterproductive, a claim that has been made against both Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protesters. ...
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This study demonstrates whether and how climate protest increases or decreases the “sentiment pools” available to the climate movement. Using an experimental vignette survey design ( n = 1,421), the author finds that compared with a control condition, peaceful marches are effective for both independents and Democrats, while civil disobedience has a positive effect among Democrats. These effects are isolated to those who are most certain of anthropogenic climate change. No effect is observed among Republicans. Despite evidence from other studies suggesting the possibility, no “backfire” effects are observed for any group or protest type. This study (1) lends supports to the use of tactical diversity within the climate movement and (2) demonstrates how the broader forces of partisanship interact with protest to shift the pool of supporters available to movements, extending our nascent collective knowledge of how partisanship shapes the outcomes of social movements and protest.
... There is strong evidence of 'backfire' or 'boomerang' effects, whereby climate communication aimed at increasing support for mitigation policies instead leads to greater opposition from those who identify with parties opposing strong mitigation (Zhou, 2016;Hart and Nisbet, 2012). These effects manifest in a wide range of behavioural and attitudinal outcomes, including general support for environmentalprotection spending (Johnson and Schwadel, 2019), risk perceptions toward climate change and natural disasters (Dixon et al., 2019;Linde, 2020), and individual consumption such as energy use reduction (Ogunbode et al., 2017) and environment-friendly purchases (Gromet et al., 2013). ...
... In the context of climate politics, this constrains climate communication and generally exacerbates partisan sources of opposition to climate mitigation (Zhou, 2016). These patterns are well established, with numerous empirical studies showing that current levels of alignment between partisanship and climate politics already manifests in 'backfire' or 'boomerang' effects across a wide range of behavioural and attitudinal outcomes, including support for climate mitigation policies (Hart and Nisbet, 2012;Johnson and Schwadel, 2019), climate risk perceptions (Dixon et al., 2019;Linde, 2020), and individual consumption (Gromet et al., 2013;Ogunbode et al., 2017). ...
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Prior research shows that public opinion on climate politics sorts along partisan lines. However, they leave open the question of whether climate politics and other politically salient issues exhibit tendencies for issue alignment, which the political polarization literature identifies as among the most deleterious aspects of polarization. Using a network approach and social media data from the Twitter platform, we study polarization of public opinion toward climate politics and ten other politically salient topics during the 2019 Finnish elections as the emergence of opposing groups in a public forum. We find that while climate politics is not particularly polarized compared to the other topics, it is subject to partisan sorting and issue alignment within the universalist-communitarian dimension of European politics that arose following the growth of right-wing populism. Notably, climate politics is consistently aligned with the immigration issue, and temporal trends indicate that this phenomenon will likely persist.
... In recent years, a number of studies have investigated how extreme weather events can affect individuals' understanding of climate change, their concerns about the risks of climate change (Bergquist and Warshaw 2019;Cutler et al. 2020), their perceived experiences of climate change (Howe et al. 2019), and the potential to trigger community discussions and collective action (Boudet et al. 2020) as well as engagement (Dixon, Bullock, and Adams 2019). In general, media coverage about climate change has the potential to shape public attitudes, understanding and awareness for climate change (Carvalho 2010). ...
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In summer 2019, several countries in Europe experienced unprecedented heatwaves. Two extreme event attribution (EEA) studies, which assess the role of climate change in extreme weather events, were published at roughly the same time as the heatwaves were taking place (June/August 2019). Building on a prior study of online news media coverage of the heatwaves, this study surveyed journalists from major news outlets in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Based on the responses of 42 journalists, we found a relative lack of knowledge about EEA studies but a high level of importance assigned to writing about the link between the heatwaves and climate change (e.g., likelihood or intensity); a relatively low number of specialist reporters vs. general reporters covering the heatwaves; a strong reliance on scientific experts as sources; no inclusion of climate change deniers; stronger role perceptions as educators than advocates; relatively little time and resource constraints on their reporting; and an overall tendency for the journalists to report more about climate change. The findings provide new insights into journalism practice and climate journalism in terms of the peculiarities and contextual factors that can influence coverage of extreme weather events and climate change.
... While adjusting climate change frames did not predict behavior regarding a specific farming intervention (Singh et al., 2020), intentional climate change framing effectively increased support for climate policy (Walker et al., 2018). Acknowledging the role of climate change in natural disasters can have negative effects on the processing of scientific facts for climate change skeptics (Dixon et al., 2019), pointing to the importance of considering the mental models the audience in preparing climate change communications. Though these examples do not argue in favor of one specific method of framing, together, these studies exemplify that the actors and audiences to which information is communicated foundationally affect the effectiveness of a message (Reddy et al., 2020). ...
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Building publics’ understanding about human-environmental causes and impacts of nutrient pollution is difficult due to the diverse sources and, at times, extended timescales of increasing inputs, consequences to ecosystems, and recovery after remediation. Communicating environmental problems with “slow impacts” has long been a challenge for scientists, public health officials, and science communicators, as the time delay for subsequent consequences to become evident dilutes the sense of urgency to act. Fortunately, scientific research and practice in the field of climate change communication has begun to identify best practices to address these challenges. Climate change demonstrates a delay between environmental stressor and impact, and recommended practices for climate change communication illustrate how to explain and motivate action around this complex environmental problem. Climate change communication research provides scientific understanding of how people evaluate risk and scientific information about climate change. We used a qualitative coding approach to review the science communication and climate change communication literature to identify approaches that could be used for nutrients and how they could be applied. Recognizing the differences between climate change and impacts of nutrient pollution, we also explore how environmental problems with delayed impacts demand nuanced strategies for effective communication and public engagement. Applying generalizable approaches to successfully communicate the slow impacts related to nutrient pollution across geographic contexts will help build publics’ understanding and urgency to act on comprehensive management of nutrient pollution, thereby increasing protection of coastal and marine environments.
... Therefore, the results will not confirm a potential increase or decrease in public support for the scientific certainty that extreme weather and climate change are connected (cf. Dixon et al., 2018), but rather whether or not climate change is becoming an increasingly important aspect when tweeting about extreme weather (see Cody et al., 2015). In addition to RQ1, we also examine the proportion of the group generating 'causality discourse' throughout the examined period: The third question then focuses on qualitatively understanding examples of significant growth of tweeting 'causality discourse', in which particular periods of time are selected for analysis: RQ3: How can periods of intensified production of 'causality discourse' be understood as dynamic relationships between the extreme-event, media-driven science communication and digital-action factors? ...
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The link between extreme weather and climate change is being highlighted in ever more countries. Increased public understanding of this issue is essential for policymaking, both in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation. As social media are becoming central to the exchange of information in society, the purpose is to analyze what generates intensified attention to the connection between extreme weather and climate change in digital communication. This is done by examining periods of intensified co-occurrence of mentions of extreme weather and climate change on English-language Twitter (N = 948,993). Our quantitative analysis suggests that during the period 2008-2017 the years 2010, 2011 and 2017 exhibit a considerable increase in 'causality discourse', i.e. tweets that articulate the topic of climate change + extreme weather, in comparison with earlier years. These periods of significant growth are interpreted as involving dynamic relationships between three factors, namely mediated highlighting of previous or ongoing extreme-weather events (extreme-event factor); connection of extreme weather to climate change by traditional media or other intermediaries (media-driven science communication factor); and actions of individual users (digital-action factor). Through a qualitative discourse analysis, how these factors jointly generate increasing attention to 'causality discourse' is more closely explored for the case of 2017. ARTICLE HISTORY
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Natural hazard-related disasters are disruptive events with significant impact on people, communities, buildings, infrastructure, animals, agriculture, and environmental assets. The exponentially increasing anthropogenic activities on the planet have aggregated the climate change and consequently increased the frequency and severity of these natural hazard-related disasters, and consequential damages in cities. The digital technological advancements, such as monitoring systems based on fusion of sensors and machine learning, in early detection, warning and disaster response systems are being implemented as part of the disaster management practice in many countries and presented useful results. Along with these promising technologies, crowdsourced social media disaster big data analytics has also started to be utilized. This study aims to form an understanding of how social media analytics can be utilized to assist government authorities in estimating the damages linked to natural hazard-related disaster impacts on urban centers in the age of climate change. To this end, this study analyzes crowdsourced disaster big data from Twitter users in the testbed case study of Australian states and territories. The methodological approach of this study employs the social media analytics method and conducts sentiment and content analyses of location-based Twitter messages (n = 131,673) from Australia. The study informs authorities on an innovative way to analyze the geographic distribution, occurrence frequency of various disasters and their damages based on the geo-tweets analysis.
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We suggest that policies will be less popular when individuals personally have to pay for them rather than when others have to pay (i.e., a Not Out of My Bank Account or NOMBA effect). Dual process models of persuasion suggest that personally having to pay would motivate scrutiny of persuasive messages making it essential to use effective science communication tactics when using climate science to support climate change policies. A pilot experiment (N = 186) and main study (N = 758) support a NOMBA effect with less policy support (Pilot study) and lower recommended fees (Main study) for a policy that would require participants, rather than another group, to pay a fee for community solar panels. Consistent with dual process models and suggesting systematic processing, only when participants would have to pay the fee, messages using strong (vs. weak) science communication tactics increased support for policies (Pilot study), increased the favorability of thoughts about the policy (Main study) and these thoughts subsequently predicted policy support (Main study). Inconsistent with propositions that information about expert sources would be a heuristic or bolster science messages, expert consensus information did not influence thoughts or policy support in any study condition. Efforts to understand climate change policy support would benefit from attending to research on dual process models of persuasion, including understanding how different types and degree of outcome relevance can alter how people process science information used to bolster support for climate change policies.
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That climate change has been accelerated by human activity is supported by a near-universal consensus of climate scientists. In this paper, we review many of the studies that have been done on the impact of communicating the scientific consensus to the general public. We discuss ongoing debates about these studies, but more importantly, we highlight complementary areas that we believe should define future research. We emphasize how a focus on processing motivations, context, and message variations may help resolve some of the debates about when scientific consensus messaging works. We then discuss ways to expand this research agenda by examining support for a broader range of outcomes across a wider range of populations, particularly those most vulnerable to the immediate impacts of climate change. Our goal is to provide a blueprint for expanding the work on climate change communication for scientific consensus messaging and beyond.
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Reducing global warming will require enacting strong climate policies, which is unlikely to happen without public support. While prior research has identified varied predictors of climate change policy support, it is unclear which predictors are strongest for the American electorate as a whole, and which predictors are strongest for Democrats and Republicans. In a nationally representative sample of registered voters ( n = 2063), we use relative weight analysis to identify the strongest predictors of public climate policy support. We find that, among registered voters in the USA, the five most important predictors of climate policy support are: worry about global warming; risk perceptions; certainty that global warming is happening; belief that global warming is human-caused; and general affect toward global warming. Collectively, these five variables account for 51% of the variance in policy support. Results split by political party indicate that pro-climate injunctive norms and global warming risk perceptions are the variables that differ most between Republicans and Democrats, accounting for significantly more variance in policy support among Republicans. These findings can inform policymakers and advocates seeking to build public support for climate action.
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Although prior research has identified communication strategies for reducing climate change skepticism, recent research suggests such approaches can backfire. To explore this issue, we report on a preliminary study investigating two prominent messaging styles: consensus and targeted messages. While consensus messaging did not produce significant effects, targeted messages emphasizing free market solutions to climate change were effective at improving conservatives’ climate change acceptance. Furthermore, the inclusion of consensus information did not improve or diminish the effects of the targeted messages. These findings underscore the utility of targeted messaging in improving climate change acceptance among political conservatives.
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Although climate change and energy are intricately linked, their explicit connection is not always prominent in public discourse and the media. Disruptive extreme weather events, including hurricanes, focus public attention in new and different ways, offering a unique window of opportunity to analyze how a focusing event influences public opinion. Simultaneously shaping and reflecting public discourse, media coverage of extreme weather events reflects public opinion of climate issues. Here we analyze climate and energy media coverage of Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) using topic models, mathematical techniques used to discover abstract topics within a set of documents. Our results demonstrate that post-Katrina media coverage does not contain a climate change topic, and the energy topic is limited to discussion of energy prices, markets, and the economy with almost no explicit linkages made between energy and climate change. In contrast, post-Sandy media coverage does contain a prominent climate change topic, a distinct energy topic, as well as integrated representation of climate change and energy.
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Mediation of X’s effect on Y through a mediator M is moderated if the indirect effect of X depends on a fourth variable. Hayes [(2015). An index and test of linear moderated mediation. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 50, 1–22. doi:10.1080/00273171.2014.962683] introduced an approach to testing a moderated mediation hypothesis based on an index of moderated mediation. Here, I extend this approach to models with more than one moderator. I describe how to test if X’s indirect effect on Y is moderated by one variable when a second moderator is held constant (partial moderated mediation), conditioned on (conditional moderated mediation), or dependent on a second moderator (moderated moderated mediation). Examples are provided, as is a discussion of the visualization of indirect effects and an illustration of implementation in the PROCESS macro for SPSS and SAS.
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Political communicators work under the assumption that information provision, such as framing, may influence audiences and elicit some desired attitudinal or behavioral shift. However, some political issues, such as climate change, have become polarized along party lines, with partisans seemingly impervious to disconfirming information. On these highly polarized issues, can framing sway partisans to moderate their positions, or are partisans so motivated in their issue stances that framing fails? Using a variety of vignettes, and Republican climate change skepticism as a case, this article reports an experiment of how partisans respond to counter-attitudinal framing on a sharply polarized issue. Results indicate that Republicans are resistant to frames that encourage support of governmental action or personal engagement against climate change. There is strong evidence of motivated skepticism, given widespread backfire (or ‘boomerang’) effects and decreased attitudinal ambivalence following exposure to framing, suggesting that issue polarization may severely constrain attempts at communication.
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Participants: Among Australians, consensus information partially neutralized the influence of worldview, with free-market supporters showing a greater increase in acceptance of human-caused global warming relative to free-market opponents. In contrast, while consensus information overall had a positive effect on perceived consensus among U.S. participants, there was a reduction in perceived consensus and acceptance of human-caused global warming for strong supporters of unregulated free markets. Fitting a Bayes net model to the data indicated that under a Bayesian framework, free-market support is a significant driver of beliefs about climate change and trust in climate scientists. Further, active distrust of climate scientists among a small number of U.S. conservatives drives contrary updating in response to consensus information among this particular group.
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This research examined whether framing a natural disaster as the product of climate change impacts attitudes toward disaster victims and humanitarian relief. Participants (n = 211) read an article about a famine caused by severe droughts, with one condition attributing the droughts to climate change and the other condition made no mention of climate change. All participants then responded to measures of justifications for or against providing aid, attitudes toward the possibility of donating, and climate change beliefs. As predicted, those high in climate change skepticism reported greater justifications for not helping the victims when the disaster was attributed to climate change. Additional moderated mediation analyses showed there was an indirect effect of climate change framing on attitudes toward donating through donation justifications.
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This study examines non-editorial news coverage in leading US newspapers as a source of ideological differences on climate change. A quantitative content analysis compared how the threat of climate change and efficacy for actions to address it were represented in climate change coverage across The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today between 2006 and 2011. Results show that The Wall Street Journal was least likely to discuss the impacts of and threat posed by climate change and most likely to include negative efficacy information and use conflict and negative economic framing when discussing actions to address climate change. The inclusion of positive efficacy information was similar across newspapers. Also, across all newspapers, climate impacts and actions to address climate change were more likely to be discussed separately than together in the same article. Implications for public engagement and ideological polarization are discussed. © The Author(s) 2015.