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Stefan Linde
Stefan Linde, Postdoctoral position in Political Science at Luleå University of Technology. Photo: Åsa Stubbfält View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Can extreme weather affect people's support for climate control?

Published: 16 March 2020

In a new research project, researchers in Political Science at Luleå University of Technology will investigate how different forms of extreme weather affect the public's support for different types of climate control measures.

The extreme temperatures during the summer of 2018 and the subsequent fires in Gävleborgs län, Jämtlands län and Dalarnas län have led to many political proposals regarding measures needed to deal with extreme weather and climate change. The proposals apply in part to more specific measures such as the procurement of fire aviation or increased appropriations for the rescue service, but also broader proposals linked to climate change, such as applicable air taxes or the establishment of protective walls in coastal areas. However, many of the proposals are still politically debated and there is currently insufficient public support, which is needed to effectively implement these measures.

­– We will investigate whether the experience of extreme weather can affect the public's attitude to support these types of measures. There is research that says that people who have personally experienced various forms of extreme weather feel a bigger concern about climate change. Then it no longer feels like something is happening to someone else far away, the distance to the problem decreases. We will investigate whether this can in turn lead to more willingness to support different types of climate control tools, says Stefan Linde, Postdoctoral position in Political Science at Luleå University of Technology.

Communication is of great importance

The researchers believe that public support for climate control is influenced by three main factors. First, they mean that the type of extreme weather (for example, fires, floods, extensive snowfall) plays a role. Second, they mean that political affiliation and environmental values ​​are important for how people interpret the occurrence of extreme weather. Third, they believe that the connection between extreme weather and policy instruments is influenced by how extreme weather is described and communicated in the public debate.

– Since most Swedes did not personally experience the fires in 2018, but were told about them through media and other people, their interpretation of the fires was probably influenced by how they were described by various important actors, such as political parties, says Stefan Linde.

The same problems are presented in different ways

– The same problems can be described differently by different actors and this in turn can affect people's attitudes. We take the fires 2018 as an example again. Some parties focused on criticizing the actual measures. They put a great deal of focus on talking about having to dedicate resources to the rescue service, that they acted too slowly and that the fires therefore got worse and so on. Other actors presented the fires as a symptom of climate change, focusing on the need to put more resources into counteracting them. Depending on who you listen to, the difference in the interpretation may, for example, apply whether you see the fires as a sign of climate change or not, says Stefan Linde.

Researchers say that this can be very problematic for how to solve the climate issue. Therefore, they should also look at how communication about extreme weather affects people's interpretation of the events.

Spread the knowledge further

The researchers believe that it is important to understand the basis of the public's view on the climate issue.

– The goal is to disseminate knowledge from the project to various authorities working with climate control tools in practice, such as the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, SMHI, MSB and the Swedish Transport Agency, säger Stefan Linde.

The researchers will partly use survey data from the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg and weather data from SMHI to study how the public's attitudes about the climate issue over time have been affected by the occurrence of extreme weather. The researchers will then conduct a number of experimental studies to look at how, for example, variations in how extreme weather communicates affect the public's support for climate control measures.