Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Something’s Changing! Are external sources the key to bridge personal experiences with climate change?

Linda Pfeiffer's picture
Pfeiffer, Linda J.
Bisi-Amosun, Olamide
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers



A key goal of science communication research has been to identify factors that will motivate public action on climate change. The risk perception literature has identified both personal experience and cognitive attributions to climate change/ global warming as essential factors for motivating mitigation behavior. However, these studies often do not account for the highly politicized nature of climate language. In this exploratory mixed-methods study, focus groups and individual interviews were utilized to elicit public perceptions of changes in long-term weather patterns, and causal attributions for these changes in the absence of politicized language. A majority of subjects identified long-term change was indeed happening and identified seven categories of changing patterns. Respondents utilized four primary criteria to identify change, including: personal experience, media coverage, social groups, and scientists. Personal experiences of change were primarily not attributed to climate causes.  Yet, when subjects referenced media coverage or scientists as criteria for noticing change, climate change attributions were significant. Together these findings strongly suggest that the public knows something is changing, but they primarily use media and scientists (not personal experience) as criteria for attributing this change to climate science. Implications include a strong role for media and scientists to prioritize linking the publics personal experiences to climate change science.