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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