Communicating Climate Change: The Role of Place Attachment and Personal Experience

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 11:15 AM
226AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Adam M. Rainear, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Scientists have attempted to explain the risks and outcomes of climate change to non-scientists by using large scale messages about global sea-level rise, global snow and ice cover, and large-scale precipitation amounts. Unfortunately, these messages have left the public with low levels of engagement in climate change, and leave scientists discouraged in their ability to communicate the science. Drawing from recent literature, messages framed from a smaller scale or “local” view-point are able to better increase both engagement and belief in climate change. Place attachment, or strong feelings towards a relevant area or place, also has been shown to increase engagement in climate change. Similarly, public belief in climate change can be shaped by personal experience of weather events which are thought to be caused by climate change. This study uses an online survey-based experiment (N=424) to test whether climate change messages that draw a connection between climate change and severe weather events like Hurricane Sandy and/or that cue people's sense of attachment to a place affected by such weather can be used to raise levels of public concern about climate change. Participants either read a message that contained a locally place attached connection with climate change, a message with a severe weather link to climate change, a message with both, or a message with neither. Messages which contained a severe weather link to climate change significantly increased participants' belief in climate change relative to both a control message that contained neither a severe weather link nor a place attached link, and a “combined” message that contained both a severe weather link and a place attached link.