In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it would be surprising if opinion polls, particularly in the US, don’t show an increase in concerns about climate change. But it would be a mistake for those worried about climate change to expect that increasingly frequent extreme weather like this will settle the case in public opinion for taking action.
The relationship between disastrous weather and worries about climate change has been clearly demonstrated. In November 2000, when much of Britain flooded after the then wettest autumn on record, the storm was linked to climate change. Concern about the environment subsequently spiked in MORI’s issues index.
In 2011, a paper in Nature Climate Change demonstrated that those who have personal experience of flooding are more likely to be concerned about climate change:
The paper also showed that those who had experienced flooding saw climate change as less uncertain, and felt more confident that their actions would have an effect on climate change.
So we might think that any doubts about the likelihood and impact of climate change will very soon be blown away by the increasing frequency of storms like Sandy, and other events like heatwaves and droughts.
It’s a plausible – though grim – argument, yet I think it’s problematic on two levels.