Perception is Everything, Even When it Comes to Climate Change

According to a new study by Columbia University, individuals who have experienced the consequences of global warming often viewed them through a community-based lens, rather than a climate change one. Frontline communities living near glaciers around the world were interviewed about their perspectives when it comes to effects of a warming planet and nearly all study participants viewed the impacts as harm happening to their community instead of a broader global phenomenon. As Yale Climate Connections explained, “residents of those communities focus on how they can adapt and promote the area’s economic vitality, for example, rather than focusing on adaptation to climate change specifically.”

Language Counts: The researchers found that people were more likely to participate in community climate adaptation projects when they believed these projects would help strengthen their community and advance it. In addition, people who “didn’t believe in climate change” were receptive to messaging around resilience instead of adaptation because resilience “speaks more directly to the deeply-felt wish that communities will continue to thrive and flourish.” 

Why This Matters: This research shows that people don’t need to necessarily “believe” in the scientific consensus of climate change in order to be compelled to take action on adaptation and mitigation. While climate science certainly has a high degree of consensus, human perception of climate change is viewed through individual lenses subject to biases, available information, and community attitudes. The researchers of this study made it clear that understanding how local communities perceive climate change is critical in engaging them as stakeholders and building trust. 

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