Study Examines How Perceived Closeness of Climate Change Influences Opinions

How does the perceived closeness, both in time and distance, of climate impacts effect engagement? The results may surprise you.

When it comes to the impacts climate change, is it out of sight, out of mind? A recent study by University of Maine researcher Laura Rickard examines if the perceived proximity of climate change can be used to inspire engagement.

The study, recently published in the journal Global Environmental Change, used experimental messaging for participants that used different departure dates, future dates after which the climate experienced on Earth will be unlike anything experienced in the recorded past.

The researchers studied three departure dates — 2020, 2047, and 2066 — to determine if there was a possible departure date threshold that could be effective in influencing climate change policy support, Phys.Org reports.

Participants surveyed in New York state and Singapore read a brief scenario describing how life in either location would would be impacted by one of the three randomly assigned dates of 2020, 2047, and 2066. The results may surprise you —

“Although 2020 may seem the most compelling—and thus, motivational— date given its temporal closeness to the present, it may also induce undesired despair and a sense of helplessness; a challenge previously identified in past climate change communication research,” Rickard says.

As Phys.Org reports, the team found individuals’ opinions on the issue, including political orientations to influence policy support and risk perceptions, impacted their interaction with different departure dates. Their results suggest that communicating the time-sensitive nature of climate impacts and its location may not always produce intended results among certain audiences, according to the researchers.

Interestingly, while Singapore participants’ results were not as swayed by political ideologies, U.S. conservatives reported the highest level of climate change policy support after reading a scenario that described negative on New York City in 2066—the scenario that was closest in distance, yet further away in time.

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