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Are flood victims more concerned about climate change than other people? The role of direct experience in risk perception and behavioural response

Lorraine Whitmarsh

Journal of Risk Research, 2008, vol. 11, issue 3, 351-374

Abstract: Climate change is a threat to human health and life, both now and in the future. Despite this, studies show that the public typically do not consider the issue a priority concern or a direct, personal threat. Furthermore, few are taking any preventive or protective action. Previous studies identify direct experience as a major influence on risk perception, learning and action. Drawing on such evidence, this paper focuses on the intangibility of climate change as a key impediment to personal engagement and explores whether relevant experiences of flooding and air pollution influence individuals' knowledge, attitudes, risk perception and behavioural responses to climate change. Perhaps surprisingly, interviews and a survey conducted in the south of England indicate flood victims differ very little from other participants in their understanding of and responses to climate change, but that experience of air pollution does significantly affect perceptions of and behavioural responses to climate change. Air pollution victims are no more likely to cite pollution as a cause of climate change than non-victims; but they do have higher pro-environmental values. Respondents with these values are significantly more likely to consider climate change a salient risk and to take action in response to it. Therefore the relationship between air pollution experience and responses to climate change may be indirect and mediated by environmental values. The paper concludes by highlighting implications of this research for developing climate change policies and strategies for public engagement.

Date: 2008
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