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Climate Change Hits Home

20 March 2011

Direct experience of extreme weather events increases concern about climate change and willingness to engage in energy-saving behaviour, according to a new research paper published in the first edition of the journal Nature Climate Change this week.

In particular, members of the British public are more prepared to take personal action and reduce their energy use when they perceive their local area has a greater vulnerability to flooding, according to the research by Cardiff and Nottingham universities.

Although no single flooding event can be attributed to climate change, Britain has experienced a series of major flood events over the past decade, something which is expected to increase in years to come as a result of climate change.

Psychologist Dr Alexa Spence, now at the University of Nottingham, said: "We know that many people tend to see climate change as distant, affecting other people and places. However experiences of extreme weather events like flooding have the potential to change the way people view climate change, by making it more real and tangible, and ultimately resulting in greater intentions to act in sustainable ways."

The research team and Ipsos-MORI surveyed 1,822 members of the British public to test whether personal experience of flooding had affected perceptions about climate change. They also looked at whether those perceptions would affect respondents’ intentions regarding energy use. The study revealed that people who reported flooding experiences had significantly different perceptions of climate change, compared to those who had not experienced flooding. These perceptions were, in turn related to a greater preparedness to save energy. In particular:
• Those who reported flooding in their local area were more likely to be concerned about climate change, to perceive a greater local vulnerability to its impacts, and also felt more able to have an impact (perceived instrumentality) over the issue.
• Flooding experiences were also linked to lower levels of uncertainty regarding the existence of climate change
• Perceived instrumentality, concern, and perceived local vulnerability were found to mediate the relationship between flooding experience and preparedness to reduce energy use.

Professor Nick Pidgeon, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, who led the research team added: "This important study provides the first solid evidence for something which has been suspected for some time – that people’s local experience of climate related events such as flooding will promote higher awareness of the issue. As a result it suggests new ways for engaging people with this most important and pressing of environmental issues."

The research was jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust. Additional support was received from Horizon Digital Economy Research.
-ENDS-

Notes for editors
1. For further information or to arrange an interview with Dr Alexa Spence or Professor Nick Pidgeon, please contact Victoria Dando, Cardiff University Public Relations Office: Tel: (0)29 2087 9074, e-mail: DandoV2@cardiff.ac.uk.

2. The survey was designed and conducted by the Understanding Risk group, an interdisciplinary social sciences research unit based at the Cardiff University School of Psychology. We research the acceptability to individuals and communities of technological and environmental risks (See: www.understanding-risk.org). Alexa Spence was part of the research team at Cardiff University, but moved to The University of Nottingham in July 2010, and has led on the new Nature Climate Change paper.

3. A full copy of the paper will be available to journalists in advance from the Nature Climate Change editorial office or from one of the authors. But the content is strictly embargoed until Sunday 20th March 2011 at 18:00 GMT (14:00 US Eastern Time). The full reference is: Spence A., Poortinga, W., Butler, C., and Pidgeon, N.F. (2011) Perceptions of climate change and willingness to act sustainably influenced by flood experiences. Nature Climate Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NCLIMATE1059

4. The survey was conducted in Britain by the market and opinion research company Ipsos-MORI (www.ipsos -mori.com) between 5 January and 2 March 2010. A nationally representative quota sample of 1,822 people aged 15 years and older was interviewed at 315 sample points across Great Britain. The full British sample of 1,822 is based on a core sample of 1,528, to which additional booster samples from Scotland (109) and Wales (185) were added. All data have been weighted to the known profile of the British population. The data based on the sample of 1,822 are accurate to within +/- 2.6% (95 times in 100).

5. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.

6. The ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2010/11 is £218 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at: www.esrc.ac.uk

7. The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £50 million every year. For further information about the schemes that the Leverhulme Trust fund visit their website at www.leverhulme.ac.uk

8. Horizon is a Research Institute at The University of Nottingham engaged in Digital Economy Research. Established in 2009, this venture represents an initial £40million investment by Research Councils UK, The University of Nottingham and over 40 academic and industrial partners in both a Research Hub and Doctoral Training Centre within the RCUK Digital Economy programme.