Event attribution and partisanship shape local discussion of climate change after extreme weather

Abstract

Extreme weather events may provide opportunities to raise public awareness and spur action to address climate change. Using concepts from the study of social movements, we conducted a systematic comparative-case analysis of 15 communities that experienced extreme weather events in the United States between 2012 and 2015 to identify under what conditions, and through what mechanisms, the experience of an extreme weather event generates community discussion and collective action linked to climate change. Although collective action related to climate change was rare post-event, we observed community discussion about the event’s link to climate change in slightly more than half of the cases, especially in Democratic and/or highly educated communities that experienced events for which attribution to climate change is more certain. Our results suggest that, although a single event may have limited impact on discussion or collective action about climate change, partisanship and an event’s attribution to climate change matter.

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Fig. 1: Causal recipes for the presence and absence of post-event climate change discussion.

Data availability

Data used in this analysis are available at: https://osf.io/kxm23/.

Code availability

Programming code used in this analysis is available at: https://osf.io/kxm23/.

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Acknowledgements

We express our sincere thanks to our interview participants. We also acknowledge the data collection efforts of N. Downing, C. Flathers, J. Knobloch, R. Nilson, S. Shepard and I. Widiyasari, as well as helpful advice we received from J. Flora and D. McAdam. This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Sociology Program (no. 1357055).

Author information

H.B. conceived the study, secured funding, supervised the project and wrote the paper. L.G. analysed data and wrote the paper. C.Z., H.S. and H.W. collected data and contributed to the analysis.

Correspondence to Hilary Boudet.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Jeroen van der Heijden and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1

Map of selected cases of extreme weather events, 2012–2015.

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Supplementary Tables 1–22, Notes 1–5 and Fig. 1.

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Boudet, H., Giordono, L., Zanocco, C. et al. Event attribution and partisanship shape local discussion of climate change after extreme weather. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 69–76 (2020) doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0641-3

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