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Rude Awakening

Scientists: When People Experience Climate Change Firsthand, They Get Serious About It

__Dan Robitzski__Filed Under: Earth & Energy
MILKOVÍ via Unsplash

Burnt Bridges

In the U.S., something as scientifically sound as the reality of climate change long been a matter of serious political contention.

However, a recent survey conducted by Stanford University researchers reveals that personally experiencing a climate change-related threat — in this case wildfires — can shrink partisan gaps and convince people to take climate change seriously, regardless of their political affiliations.


The survey, led by Stanford social scientist Iris Hui, asked 1,042 Californians about their experiences with wildfires. Interestingly, it revealed that political leanings had a strong impact on memory, as self-identified Republicans were more likely to say they hadn’t experienced wildfires when they actually had. However, Republicans who were near fires were more likely to support government measures to stop climate change, which is a departure from the political party’s typical attitude.

“We know partisanship plays a strong role in how people perceive reality,” Hui said in a press release.

Changing Winds

The survey, which was presented earlier this month at the annual American Political Science Meeting, could be a sign that attitudes toward climate change are changing now that it’s personally affecting Americans in a drastic way.

“If weeks of pervasive wildfire smoke become the new normal in the American West,” political scientist and study coauthor Bruce Cain said in the release, “it could be the reality check that loosens some of the partisan logjams about climate change politics in our region.”

READ MORE: Researchers find California wildfires shrink partisan differences about climate change strategies [Stanford University]

More on wildfires: Leaked Memo: Trump’s Chinese Drone Ban Made Wildfire Season Worse