Engaging the public with climate change has proved difficult, in part because they see the problem as remote. New evidence suggests that direct experience of one anticipated impact — flooding — increases people’s concern and willingness to save energy.
In the face of political obstacles to achieving domestic and international agreements on the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, policymakers are increasingly looking to individuals to voluntarily cut their energy use to curb emissions in the near term. Unfortunately, most people living in western countries fail to install energy-saving technologies, even if doing so would save them money in the long run. Furthermore, they show little motivation to change their lifestyles in ways that require personal sacrifice. Social scientists have attributed such reluctance toengage in energy-efficient behaviour at least in part to a lack of personal experience of the impacts of climate change. Empirical evidence to support this hypothesis has, however, been scarce. Writing in Nature Climate Change, Spence and colleagues provide welcome evidence that direct experience of adverse climate impacts increases people’s concern about climate change, as well as their perceived ability to tackle it and their willingness to act.