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Study: Impacts of extreme weather on communities influences climate beliefs

By Brooks Hays
Heavy rain brought severe floods to several Colorado communities in 2013. Photo by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency<br>
Heavy rain brought severe floods to several Colorado communities in 2013. Photo by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

May 31 (UPI) -- New research suggests the impact of extreme weather on a person's neighbors and community has a greater influence on a person's climate change beliefs than individual losses.

"We found that damage at the zip-code level as measured by FEMA was positively associated with stronger climate change beliefs even three or four years after the extreme flooding event our study examined," Elizabeth A. Albright, an assistant professor of the practice of environmental science and policy methods at Duke University, said in a news release.

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Albright and her colleagues sent surveys to a variety of communities impacted by heavy rains and flooding in Colorado. Researchers surveyed individuals that were directly impacted by flooding, as well as those that avoided individual property damages. Surveys were also sent to residents of communities spared from the worst of the flooding.

The questionnaires asked residents about their individual experiences and the effects of flooding on their broader communities, as well as their perception of future flooding risks and beliefs about climate change.

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Survey results showed people who perceived flooding as having a broad and significant effect on their community were more likely to be concerned about climate change and the prospects of future floods, even three years after the floods. The findings, published this week in the journal Climatic Change, revealed the experience of individual damages had little impact on a person's long-term beliefs about climate change and the risk of severe flooding.

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"These findings speak to the power of collective experiences and suggest that how the impacts from extreme weather are conceptualized, measured and shared matters greatly in terms of influencing individual beliefs," said Deserai Crow, associate professor of public affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver.

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