New Research Shows Public Opinion Really Does Change With the Weather

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Contrary to popular belief, older persons more concerned about global warming, rainfall, says Stetson University researcher

Jason M. Evans, Ph.D., Stetson University

Those who have lived with drought over a long period of time appear to become desensitized to future concerns about water availability.

A new study led by Stetson University’s Jason M. Evans, Ph.D., found public opinion on climate change is greatly influenced by current weather conditions. The study also discovered older persons are more concerned about their community having enough water in the future due to global warming.

One of the biggest factors in the perception of global warming’s affect on rainfall in an area was whether study participants had suffered drought conditions during the past 12 weeks, according to the study published in Climatic Change. Those who had recently gone through a drought were substantially more concerned that climate change would affect the amount of rainfall in the future.

“It appears people are somewhat shortsighted when it comes to global warming and its effects on rainfall,” said Evans, an assistant professor in Environmental Science and Geography at Stetson. “If living in drought conditions is something new to respondents, they are far more likely to be concerned global warming could cause less rainfall in the future.”

Most surprising to researchers was the increased concern among older persons regarding rainfall being affected by climate change. This result was somewhat contrary to other studies that found older persons tend to have less concern for environmental issues.

“We believe these findings may show older persons are noticing droughts progressively getting worse over their lifetime, which research has shown to be true,” Evans said, “and they believe these droughts will continue to get worse due to global warming.”

One of the key takeaways from the study, say the researchers, is the need for ongoing education about water issues and conservation. When people are newly affected by water issues, they are quick to see the need to change behavior to avoid long-term problems. However, those who have lived with drought over a long period of time appear to become desensitized to future concerns about water availability.

The research findings include feedback from residents in nine southern states in the United States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. However, researchers believe the findings are similar to attitudes towards water issues and climate change throughout the U.S. The survey of residents was conducted between 2007 and 2010.

About Stetson University
Founded in 1883, Stetson University is the oldest private university in Central Florida, providing a transforming education in the liberal arts tradition. Stetson stresses academic excellence and community-engaged learning, and consistently earns high marks in national rankings. Stetson encourages its students to go beyond success to significance in their lives, the lives of others and their communities.

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Janie Graziani
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