Do Experiences with Extreme Weather Change Beliefs about Climate Change? Perhaps, if Your Neighbors are Harmed

Photo above: Residents embrace near a washed-out home in Jamestown, Colo. on Sept. 14, 2013. Flooding hit the mountain community hard, and residents were trapped for days with no road into or out of town. Photo: Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post.

by Deserai Crow
CSTPR Faculty Affiliate and Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs, CU Denver

Elizabeth Albright, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

Leaving catastrophic damage in their path, flood damages and recovery costs across the U.S. tally in the billions annually, a cost-estimate that is likely increasing over time according to a 2008 study (Brody et al. 2008). Colorado’s catastrophic 2013 floods were one such example. The floods caused billions of dollars in damage to Colorado communities, homes and businesses, and regional infrastructure.

As the climate changes, scientists warn that increasingly intense and damaging weather events will become more frequent (Coumou and Rahmstorf 2012; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007; Karl et al. 2009). To make matters worse, households are increasingly relocating to flood-prone areas. Our work over the past 5 years has tried to understand if, how, and under what conditions individuals and communities can learn from, adapt to, and become more resilient to these climate-driven disasters.

One of the important questions we sought to answer is whether those who directly experience damage from extreme climatic events – such as disastrous flooding – change their beliefs about the causes of flooding. Our research allows us to understand whether experiencing an extreme flood event changes someone’s beliefs about climate change and the role climate change may play in extreme flood events.

Sudden, extreme climatic events, particularly those that cause extensive damage, often garner increased public attention to issues surrounding climate change, at least immediately after the disaster. Directly experiencing extreme weather events may shape individuals’ beliefs about the seriousness of climate change, even if the science linking global climate change to specific localized weather events is complex and uncertain (Egan and Mullin 2012; Konisky et al. 2015; Sisco et al. 2017; Spence et al. 2011).

Understanding these links is critical, in part because beliefs about climate change may influence public support for policies aimed at addressing issues related to climate adaption and resilience. In local governments, we increasingly see action to mitigate and manage risks, including conversations about building resilience (Albright and Crow 2015; Brody et al. 2008; Godschalk et al. 2003).

In our forthcoming paper, we examined how 903 residents in six flood-affected Colorado communities perceive the seriousness of climate change and its potential link with the floods. We specifically examine (1) the proximity and severity of flood damage to residents, focused on household, neighborhood, and/or community levels, (2) how flood damage experience may affect climate change beliefs, and (3) how demographic variables, political affiliation, and beliefs about climate change may impact perception of future risks.

The findings from our study indicate that experiencing a flood does have an effect on climate change beliefs. Direct experience with a flood causing household damage is not significantly associated with climate change beliefs several years after the flood, however. Rather, it is the perception of neighborhood and community damage that is related to a greater belief in climate change and its links to the floods and future flood risks. This connection between more communal measures of flood damage and belief change is surprising and an area we intend to explore further. It also gives some element of hope in an era where we hear daily about self-interested decision-making to know that concern for community may be a motivating factor in belief changes after a disaster.

Visit the research team’s website at for a full report and publications.

The findings described here will soon be published in the journal Climatic Change under the title “Beliefs about Climate Change in the Aftermath of Extreme Flooding”. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Albright E.A. and Crow D.A. (2015). Learning processes, public and stakeholder engagement: Analyzing responses to Colorado’s extreme flood events of 2013. Urban Clim 14:79–93.

Brody, S.D., Zahran, S., Vedlitz, A., and Grover, H. (2008). Examining the relationship between physical vulnerability and public perceptions of global climate change in the United States. Environ Behav 40(1): 72-95.

Coumou, D., and Rahmstorf, S. (2012). A decade of weather extremes. Nat Clim Chang 2: 491–496.

Egan, P.J. and Mullin, M. (2012). Turning personal experience into political attitudes: The effect of local weather on Americans’ perceptions about global warming. J Politics 74(3): 796-809.

Godschalk, D.R., Brody, S., and Burby, R. (2003). Public participation in natural hazard mitigation policy formation: challenges for comprehensive planning. J Environ Plan Manage 46(5): 733-754.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007). Climate change 2007: Synthesis report (Eds. Pachauri, RK, Reisinger, A). Cambridge Univ. Press.

Karl, T.R., Melillo, J.M., and Peterson, T.C. (2009). Global climate change impacts in the United States Cambridge Univ Press.

Konisky, D.M., Hughes, L., and Kaylor, C.H. (2015). Extreme weather events and climate change concern. Clim Chang 134(4):533-547.

Sisco, M.R., Bosetti, V., and Weber, E.U. (2017). When do extreme weather events generate attention to climate change? Clim Chang 143(1-2): 227-241.

Spence, A., Poortinga, W., Butler, C., and Pidgeon, N. (2011). Perceptions of climate change and willingness to save energy related to flood experience. Nat Clim Chang1(April): 46–49.

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Former Fulbright Scholar, Anna Kukkonen, Earns her PhD

In 2018, Anna Kukkonen (second from the left in the picture above) was part of CSTPR as a visiting Fulbright Scholar from the University of Helsinki, Finland. She recently defended her thesis entitled “Discourse Networks and Justifications of Climate Change Policy. News Media Debates in Canada, the United States, Finland, France, Brazil, and India”. Professor Tanya Heikkila from UC Denver served as an opponent in the defense. A post-doctoral party called “Karonkka”, an old Finnish academic tradition, was held at a local restaurant in the honour of the opponent Heikkila.

Congratulations Anna!

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Time To Wake Up: Bad Media (for) Climate

CSTPR’s MeCCO work and USA Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change figure was cited in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s Senate floor speech on May 20, 2019 (around 9:50 in video).

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Inside the Greenhouse Newsletter, Issue 13

Issue 13 | May 2019
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We are excited to share with you another update regarding our ongoing efforts in the spaces of research, teaching and engagement in the public sphere. In newsletter #13, we share a sampling of our many ongoing activities.

As a key dimension of our ongoing efforts, we continue to work with University of Colorado (CU) students as we all deepen our understanding of how to effectively address issues associated with climate change. In the Spring semester that has just wrapped up, we worked with 84 students across three classes.

  • Beth Osnes and Max Boykoff led the ‘Creative Climate Communications’ course and worked with students to communicate about sustainable fashion, and to explore new communication pathways through humor and comedy;
  • in the ‘Art of Science Communication’ course led by Rebecca Safran (with Erin Shauster), students pressed forward in building skills in visual storytelling, branding and translation of scientific ways of knowing and learning;
  • in the ‘Environmental Communication’ course, Phaedra Pezzullo led students through examinations of historical events, key concepts, legal landmarks, and technological developments at the intersection of the environment, economics, and social justice.

In this critical period of time, we at Inside the Greenhouse remain committed to creative work to meet people where they are and to help make sense of 21st century climate challenges.

Your support is critical as we continue to carry out these projects, linking campus and community as well as the local with the global. Please visit the Inside the Greenhouse Gift Fund to provide a tax-deductible gift. Any amount helps. Read more …

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: Coal is Facing Intensifying Pressure from Wind and Solar Power

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
April 2019 Summary

Globally, the quantity of coverage remained steady as compared with the previous month of March 2019. However, coverage in April 2019 went up nearly 50% compared to coverage globally in April 2018.

Across the seven regions we monitor (Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America, Oceania), Europe saw the largest rise in coverage, increasing nearly 12% from the previous month and up 89% from European coverage a year earlier (April 2018).

Within Europe, United Kingdom media coverage increased remarkably, up 39% from the previous month of March, and also up 167% from April 2018: cultural and political movements and pressures drove coverage, notably through Extinction Rebellion protests and Greta Thunberg actions (see below for more).

April media attention to climate change and global warming continued to be driven by political economic, ecological/meteorological, scientific and cultural themes.

Figure 1 shows increases and decreases in newspaper media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – from January 2004 through April 2019.

This month we have added eight new European sources to our counts. These are Correio da Manhã (Portugal), La Republica (Italy), Corriere della Sera (Italy), Le Monde (France), Le Figaro (France), El Mundo (Spain), La Vanguardia (Spain) and Expansión (Spain). These new sources, along with previous monitoring in Europe enable us to now provide a regional tracking of 19 sources (see Figure 2). Overall, these new sources expand our monitoring to three new countries (Italy, France, Portugal) and two new languages (Italian and French). In Italian we search the terms ‘cambiamenti climatici’ and ‘riscaldamento globale’, in French we search ‘changement climatique’ and ‘réchauffement climatique’.

Therefore, we at MeCCO now track media coverage of climate change or global warming across 89 sources (newspapers, TV and radio) in 41 countries and 7 languages (English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish).

Considering thematic dimensions of coverage in April, political and economic content punctuated media coverage throughout the month. For instance, in the United States (US), discussions of federal (in)action on climate change continued. For example, mid-month an Environmental Protection Agency ‘Planning for Natural Disaster Debris’ guide with mentions of climate change adaptation warranted coverage. Washington Post journalists Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis wrote, “The Environmental Protection Agency published a 150-page document this past week with a straightforward message for coping with the fallout from natural disasters across the country: Start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make these catastrophes worse. The language, included in guidance on how to address the debris left in the wake of floods, hurricanes and wildfires, is at odds with the rhetoric of the EPA’s own leader, Andrew Wheeler”.

Also in April, US Presidential candidates vying for the Democratic nomination have increasingly discussed their stances on climate change. These stances and platforms have garnered discernible media interest. For example, 2020 hopeful Beto O’Rourke’s $5 trillion plan to combat climate change attracted attention. CNN journalists Kate Sullivan and Leyla Santiago reported “former Texas Democratic congressman’s plan called climate change “the greatest threat we face” and outlined a four-part framework to address this “existential threat” and “growing emergency … O’Rourke’s ambitious, first major policy rollout comes amid questions from voters and critics about how he would take on key issues should he be elected president”. Meanwhile, Kathleen Ronayne and Will Weissert – covering Beto O’Rourke’s announcement for the Associated Press and PBS Newshour – noted it “calls on the U.S. to guarantee net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, while promising to reach half that goal in just the next 11 years”.

And late in April, a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis regarding the ongoing political economy of coal vis-à-vis renewable energy generation contributed to coverage of climate change. For example, CNNjournalist Matt Egan wrote, “The renewable energy sector is projected to generate more electricity than coal during the month of April, according to a recent report published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). That’s never happened before. Coal, long the king of the power sector, has already been dethroned by natural gas, a much cleaner burning fossil fuel. Now, coal is facing intensifying pressure from wind and solar power” Egan quoted Dennis Wamstead from IEEFA who commented, “Five years ago this never would have been close to happening…The transition that’s going on in the electric sector in the United States has been phenomenal”.

Across the globe in April, many news stories focused on the cultural arena. For example, in mid-April Amazon employees penned an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos, stating discontent with the company’s stance on sustainability and climate change. Signed by approximately 4,500 workers, this disturbance in business cultures generated media attention. Journalist Karen Weise from The New York Times reported, “Employees at big tech companies have pushed back against their employers for working with the military and law enforcement offices, and demanded better treatment of women and minorities. Now, thousands of them are also taking on climate change. This week, more than 4,200 Amazon employees called on the company to rethink how it addresses and contributes to a warming planet. The action is the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the influential tech industry. The workers say the company needs to make firm commitments to reduce its carbon footprint across its vast operations, not make piecemeal or vague announcements. And they say that Amazon should stop offering custom cloud-computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract more fossil fuels”. Meanwhile, reporter Joseph Pisani from the Associated Press noted, “The online shopping giant, which already works with BP and Shell, has been trying to woo more oil and gas companies to use its technology to help them find drillable oil faster, angering workers who have been pushing Amazon to do more to combat climate change”.

Also, media covered ongoing youth protects about climate change: particularly of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg as well as the United Kingdom (UK) movement Extinction Rebellion. For example, from US National Public Radio, David Greene and Frank Langfitt discussed how Extinction Rebellion disrupted ‘business as usual’ in London on April 17. Greene noted, “protesters have blocked traffic in parts of the city for several days now to put pressure on the British government to address climate change. Demonstrators have shut down 55 bus routes and, according to police, affected half a million people. Police have already made nearly 300 arrests”. Meanwhile, Guardian journalists Matthew Taylor, Damien Gayle and Libby Brooks observed, “Thousands of people have taken part in the civil disobedience protests since Monday, blockading four landmarks in the capital in an attempt to force the government to take action on the escalating climate crisis…the four sites – Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus – remained under the control of protesters, causing delays and diversions in the surrounding areas”. Also in The Guardiana few days later,journalists Vikram Dodd , Damien Gayle and Martha Busby wrote, “Governments will no longer be able ignore the impending climate and ecological crisis, Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, has told Extinction Rebellion protesters gathered at Marble Arch in London. In a speech on Sunday night where she took aim at politicians who have for too long been able to satisfy demands for action with “beautiful words and promises”, the Swedish 16-year-old said humanity was sitting at a crossroads, but that those gathered had chosen which path they wish to take”. Read more …

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Ogmius, Issue #52 is Now Out

Issue #52, Spring 2019

Ogmius Exchange

Faculty Affiliate Forum

Student Highlight

Local Highlight

Center News

Center Publications

Multimedia Highlight

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The Media is Failing on Climate Change

Here’s how they can do better ahead of 2020

Photo: Young protestors hold placards at the office of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell during a Green New Deal demonstration (Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock)

The Guardian
by Emily Holden

America elected Donald Trump at the end of the hottest year ever recorded, without debate moderators asking him a single question about global warming.

But after three years of record temperatures, devastating wildfires and some of the most destructive hurricanes in US history, the media is facing new pressure – often from the candidates themselves – to give the subject more prominence during the 2020 election.

Yesterday, MSNBC devoted more than five minutes to Beto O’Rourke’s rollout of a $5tn climate plan, calling climate a “kitchen table issue” for 2020. Jay Inslee, the Washington governor who is seeking to make climate change the central thrust of his campaign, is calling on the Democratic National Committee to host a debate solely focused on climate. Bernie Sanders raised the issue during his town hall on Fox News earlier this month – and even drew cheers from the audience when he talked about new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Rising temperatures and the crisis they pose for humans were part of every Democratic candidate’s pitch during CNN’s marathon of hour-long town halls last week.

In the run-up to 2020, as newsroom leaders grapple with their mistakes in the 2016 election – from reliance on inaccurate polls to underestimating the impact of fake news – the failure to press candidates on climate change is emerging as an area of self-examination.

“In 2016 there were almost no questions asked , which is insane,” says Tony Bartelme, a senior reporter who covers climate change for the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. “It’s a good start that we’re starting to hear questions for 2020.”

The Guardian is joining forces with Columbia Journalism Review and the Nation to launch Covering Climate Change: A New Playbook for a 1.5-Degree World, a project aimed at dramatically improving US media coverage of the climate crisis. The project kicks off today with an event at Columbia Journalism School featuring CJR’s editor-in-chief, Kyle Pope, the Nation’s environment correspondent, Mark Hertsgaard, and the Guardian climate columnist Bill McKibben.

The Green New Deal – progressives’ vision for slowing climate change without further burdening the poor – has also helped catapult the subject into the 2020 conversation. In March, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes took the highly unusual step of devoting an hour to the idea, in a show featuring the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But even as there are signs that airtime for climate is beginning to increase, questions remain about the depth and quality of the coverage. “I don’t see the media paying much attention to differentiating how serious each candidate is on the climate question,” said David Gelber, the creator and executive producer for the Showtime series on climate change, Years Of Living Dangerously.

More Americans than ever are worried about climate change. A poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa ranked climate change about on par with healthcare as the top issues they want candidates to talk about.

Research indicates that major national newspapers are beginning to pay more attention to climate – but local publications and TV news haven’t kept up. The major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX – spent just 142 minutes on climate change last year, according to one calculation from the progressive group Media Matters. And about half of Americans hear about global warming in the media once a month or less, according to surveys by climate communications programs at Yale and George Mason universities.

Meanwhile, five major national US newspapers – the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times – have, in aggregate, roughly tripled their coverage of climate change since four years ago, according to the Media and Climate Change Observatory at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Read more …

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What’s So Funny About Climate Change?

CU Boulder Today

photo above: Daniel Hood performs stand-up comedy as a tree. Photo: Chelsea Hackett.

Environmental researchers know the problem all too well: the science on climate change is clear, but people won’t listen. For most people, perusing the latest 500-plus page report on global warming projections is more likely to inspire a nap than a drastic switch to a zero-waste lifestyle.

Beth Osnes and Max Boykoff, associate professors of theatre and environmental studies, respectively, have a suggestion: trade in thesis statements for punchlines.

In 2012, they helped launch the Inside the Greenhouse project at CU Boulder to explore comedy and other unique ways of framing issues surrounding climate change.

As part of the project, students in their spring 2019 “Creative Climate Communications” class took the stage Thursday to perform climate change-themed comedy in front of a packed Old Main theatre. Some student performers were dressed head-to-toe as wind turbines while others took on more traditional stand-up sets.

Good-natured humor about nature
While it would be easy to fall into dark humor with the often apocalyptic nature of climate change conversations, Thursday’s show, “Stand Up for Climate Change,” took a light-hearted approach.

“Climate change especially is an issue associated with gloom and doom, guilt and fear—all negative emotions that most people would much rather avoid than confront,” said Osnes. “Through comedy, we hope to make an encounter with issues surrounding climate a positive one, which we hope will contribute towards more sustained pro-environmental action.”

Students created comedy to specifically communicate one of the Drawdown solutions to reverse global warming—a list of concrete steps to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

To explore the environmental benefits of switching to a plant-rich diet, for example, a group of students imagined the challenges of selling meat substitutes to a caveman in a modern grocery store.

Joey Filmanowicz, Kyle Fowler and Jules Murtha parody David Bowie and The Beatles. Photo: Chelsea Hackett.

“A lot of people aren’t taught to talk about that information in a way that will be received by other people,” said Jules Murtha, a senior theatre student who parodied The Beatles’ Let It Be on Thursday. “I think that comedy is a really great way to do that.”

Many in the class, which is typically split between environmental studies, ATLAS and theatre students, went in with little to no performance experience. The idea of a comedy-based final, for most, made syllabus week for scary than funny.

“You could witness the shock on other classmates’ faces because most of them have never performed in their lives,” said Murtha. “When they were told that they would have to get up on stage and try to make people laugh, they were terrified.”

A social experiment
Don’t be fooled by the laughter and silly costumes, Osnes and Boykoff are also conducting real science through the course.

The pair first connected in 2011 and Boykoff says this is the fourth time they’ve been able to teach this class together. Published in January, they drew on that experience in a joint study in Political Geography on the efficacy of communicating climate science through humor.

“This work is showing that we can open up new pathways to discussing, considering and engaging with climate change,” said Boykoff.

While the exact recipe for the class is still evolving after eight years, one ingredient has remained the same: fun.

“If you can create positive association with climate change, you’ve done something right,” said Beth Osnes. “Our goal in doing this is not to make light of the seriousness of this issue, but rather to bring light to a sustainable path forward.”

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Stories of Transformation: A Cross-Country Focus Group Study on Sustainable Development & Societal Change

by V. Wibeck, B-O. Linnér, M. Alves, T. Asplund, A. Bohman, M.T. Boykoff, P.M. Feetham, Y. Huang, J. Nascimento, J. Rich, C.Y. Rocha, F. Vaccarino, and S. Xian

Sustainability, 2019

Abstract: Societal transformation is one of the most topical concepts in sustainability research and policy-making. Used in many ways, it indicates that nonlinear systematic changes are needed in order to fully address global environmental and human development challenges. This paper explores what sustainability transformations mean for lay focus group participants in Cabo Verde, China, Fiji, Sweden, and the USA. Key findings include: (a) Tightly linked to interpersonal relationships, sustainability was seen as going beyond the Sustainable Development Goals to include a sense of belonging; (b) transformations were framed as fundamental changes from today’s society, but most participants stated that transformation pathways need to splice new structures into the old; (c) new technologies are key engines of change. Yet, the most common drivers were awareness, education, and knowledge sharing; and (d) regardless of whether state-centric or decentralized governance was preferred, personal action was seen as essential. The focus groups displayed a shared understanding across the geographical settings; a common realization of profound sustainability predicaments facing societies across the world; and a desire for fundamental change towards a more sustainable way of life. Read more …

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Winners Announced – ITG Comedy & Climate Change Video Competition

Humor is a tool underutilized, and comedy has the power to effectively connect with people about climate change issues.

Inside the Greenhouse held a competition to harness the powers of climate comedy through compelling, resonant and meaningful videos.

The videos from the 2019 winners will be announced and shown to a live audience at the Stand Up For Climate Change event on April 25.

Here are the 2019 winners:

First Place Winner

Al Gore – Man On The Street
by Rollie Williams & An Inconvenient Talk Show

Second Place Winner

How (not) to talk about Climate Change
by Adam Levy, Geoff Marsh & Adam Corner

Third Place Winner

The Climate Rock (Climate Elvis)
by Josh Willis & Lizze Gordon

Honorable Mentions

An Inconvenient Joke
by David Krantz

Giving Climate Denial the FLICC
by John Cook

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