First-Hand Experience Makes People Care More About Warming

While many may feel climate change's effects may be exaggerated, those who live through floods and its other effects are less skeptical.

Cars crossing a street after the rain in northern Mexico. Photo: Dupondt/ Wikimedia Commons Stepping into a flooded house or driving through submerged streets after a river overflows can be both a headache and health hazard. But new research suggests such events may be one of the few factors that get people thinking about the effects of climate change.

Featured in the journal Nature Climate Change, one study surveyed approximately 1,800 British adults living in the United Kingdom and found those personally affected by flooding were more likely to be concerned with global warming and express interest in decreasing their energy use.

Although global warming focuses largely on the planet's increasing temperature over time, scientists support that climate variability will continue to increase as well. In some areas such as the United Kingdom, researchers attribute periods of dryness and heavy rainfalls - which can cause flooding - to climate change.

In the sample, 363 people reported experiencing a flood recently. Researchers discovered these subjects were less likely to be uncertain about global warming, were more concerned about the impacts of climate change and were more likely to believe their actions could curb global warming when compared to participants who had not experienced a flood recently.

The results follow a 2011 Gallup Poll suggesting that Americans have lower levels of concern about global warming when compared to previous years, with approximately 48 percent of the public believing the "seriousness" of climate change is exaggerated.

This trend contrasts with the 97 percent of scientists backing climate change's existence as well as its growth from human activities, according to other research on the topic.

Overall, it seems obvious that people who live through a negative event are more likely to be concerned with the causes of that event, but proving this hasn't always been easy for researchers because of testing conditions.

Other findings indicate that people living along low-lying coastal are more aware of the consequences of global warming on their areas, but there's not enough data from individuals living in low-risk areas to extend these findings to everyone just yet.

So what can be done with this information?

For starters, the authors highlight the effectiveness of tying personal experiences to the larger picture of climate change. For most people, they argue, global warming is a distant issue affecting faraway places.

Localizing climate-related issues and making them personally relevant will be important in reducing carbon emissions and encouraging action, the authors say.