TechA skeptical climate: Public doubts climate change links to hurricanes, tornadoes

A skeptical climate: Public doubts climate change links to hurricanes, tornadoes

Hurricane Ida
Hurricane Ida
Images source: © Getty Images
Mateusz Sołtysiak

18 June 2024 16:43

It is quite easy for adults to understand and believe that heatwaves and fires are the result of climate change, but they are reluctant to accept that climate change is also associated with other extreme events, such as hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes, American scientists have found.

Researchers from Oregon State University (USA) described their recent study in "Climatic Change," which measured public confidence in attributing five types of events to climate change: fires, heatwaves, heavy rainfalls and floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Respondents (a total of 1,071 people) had to rate their confidence on a scale from 1 to 5. The survey also asked if they had personally experienced any negative effects from the listed weather events.

There is a connection, but what kind?

Considering the entirety of extreme weather events, 83 percent of respondents stated that there must be some connection between them and anthropogenic, meaning human-caused, climate change. About 17 percent believed these things had nothing to do with each other.

Over 47 per cent of those surveyed were "very" or "extremely" confident about the connection between increased fires and climate change, and about 42 per cent were "very" or "extremely" convinced that heatwaves are linked to these changes. However, with much scepticism, people approached the correlation of the other three extreme events, especially hurricanes and tornadoes.

Researchers believe the results can be explained, among other things, because everyone feels the heatwaves today. Also, the massive fires in recent years in Canada and California affect (in the form of airborne particles) even people thousands of miles away from the burning areas. In contrast, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods in the USA affect a relatively small group of people.

It's about education

The study's authors also noted that respondents' attitudes were greatly influenced by education level, age, ethnicity, income, and political affiliation. Of all five weather events, Republicans and Democrats were most divided regarding the correlation between heatwaves and climate change and most aligned on hurricanes.

"Although there is an increasing amount of scientific evidence attributing extreme events to climate change, we still know little about what the public thinks about this," says Prof. Hilary Boudet, co-author of the study from the College of Liberal Arts Oregon State University. "This work helps us better understand that, which is very important because the perception of this relationship shapes individual behaviours and political support."

The study's authors also claim that understanding the public perception of the correlation between extreme weather conditions and climate change is crucial for maximising the impact of mitigation actions.

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