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Extreme weather events do little to sway minds on climate change

With Hurricane Irma set to make landfall in Florida on Sunday, and parts of Texas still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, scientists, activists, and climatologists have cited the extreme weather as indisputable evidence of climate change.

While climate change was not the sole cause of Hurricane Harvey, warming waters and increasing global temperatures have provided ideal conditions for storms to worsen to catastrophic levels.

A recent study found that after major weather events, people are more likely to support policies that factor in the effects of climate change and hinder further harm.

The only problem is the effect doesn’t last long. Researchers have found that as soon as one month after a major weather event, any outlying support for policy change had diminished.

“People respond to recent weather, whether it’s temperature spikes, severe storms or other events, but the effects are small. Extreme weather is much less significant than other factors when it comes to attitudes about climate,” said David Konisky, author of the study and an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

A major weather event is not enough to change party affiliation, policy opinion, or have much of an impact on understanding of climate change the study found.

The study was published in the journal Global Environmental Change and was a collaborative effort between Konisky and researchers from American University, The Australian National University, and Temple University.

The researchers collected data from surveys conducted by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and compared responses to information taken from the National Weather Service’s Storm Events Database.

Konisky looked specifically at three different policies aimed at adapting to the changing climate, including restrictions on coastal development, limits on outdoor residential water use, and regulations of stormwater runoff from residential property.

The surveys showed overall support for the policies, but major weather events were only a slight motivator.

“People are pretty certain of where they stand on climate change, and extreme weather does not really move the needle much,” said Konisky.

The research shows that even though climate change is creating perfect conditions for massive storms and major weather events, the weather itself is not going to be enough of a catalyst to enact real change in public opinion.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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